Boo the 5 biggest sports 'traitors'

These athletes ignored rivalries to cross over to other side

Published On: Dec 29 2011 01:05:33 AM EST   Updated On: Dec 29 2011 01:09:07 PM EST

Our favorite sports teams are like family. We connect to their wins and losses the same as if they were ours. Out there on the field, diamond, track or court are our brothers and sisters wearing the uniforms designating the bond.

So we take it personally when we see "one of ours" act in ways unbecoming.

This is especially true if they do something as dastardly as, say, join forces with an enemy squad. "How can they just turn their backs on us like that?" we lament.

In today's sports-as-a-business atmosphere, we all realize players rarely stay in one spot forever. But it's one thing to leave town, it's another all together to make a beeline for your former team's biggest rival.

So, as we live our lives through the televisions and stadiums, here are five examples of sports "traitors" who stand above the rest.

No. 5: Deion Sanders

This all-pro with an equally impressive personality built up a nice body of work playing for the enemy.

Deion Sanders began in 1989 with the Atlanta Falcons. After five seasons, 'ole Prime Time high-tailed it to then-division rival San Francisco. The next year in a "homecoming" game in Atlanta, he showboated in true traitor style in front of the Falcon bench following an interception.

He did help San Fran win a Super Bowl that year, playing his best football, so he went looking for new and better money. And who did he find but their biggest conference rival, the Dallas Cowboys.

After five years in Dallas, he went to play for, yep, their division rival, the Washington Redskins. Though he neared the end of his career, Neon Deion did find time for one more move. As if tantalizingly scripted, he ended his career playing for the Redskins' nearby "geographic rival," Baltimore Ravens.

No. 4: Nick Saban

This sports traitor took false fronts to a new high, or, er, to a new low, perhaps.

Players move, coaches move; fans understand the fluidity of the game. We also understand the need for a leader to show confidence and commitment when unsure about the future.

But this necessity was really stretched in late December 2006 when Nick Saban, in unequivocal terms, lied to the public about his intention to go coach for Alabama.

Now, in his defense, he was the coach of the Miami Dolphins at the time. If he mentions his wavering commitment, his current team may falter.

Nonetheless, he made statements like "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach." And then three weeks later? He was the Alabama coach. Oh yeah, and Alabama is in the same conference as LSU, the team he led to two Sugar Bowl wins, the second earning them a National Championship in 2004.

No. 3: Brett Favre

As an icon of Green Bay, Wis., where the beloved Packers are darn-near worshipped, Favre blemished his legacy by continuously waffling on a return after a tear-filled retirement and then forcing a trade away from the team to the New York Jets.

"How could he don the jersey of anything non-Packer?" said the fans in disbelief.

Oh, but wait, it gets better. His leaving was just a warm-up to an act deemed traitorous of an unprecedented measure -- retiring yet again before changing his mind and maneuvering his way to the Pack's biggest rival, the Minnesota Vikings. Is nothing sacred?

Like many hometown fans, Packer Backers wished their athletes would treat the game as they do, with loyalty, rather than as just business or a personal ambition.

This is what Favre is guilty of. He wanted to play ball -- jerseys be damned -- and "tarnished" his legacy in the eyes of Packer fans with every post-Packers move.

No. 2: Wade Boggs/Roger Clemens/Johnny Damon

Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon all committed a big no-no: starring for years for the Boston Red Sox and then going to the hated rival New York Yankees.

To many, they solidified the notion that athletes only care about money. As Damon said in '05, "There's no way I can go play for the Yankees ... It's definitely not the most important thing to go out there for the top dollar." Guess what? Seven months later, he went for top dollar, turning down an offer from the Red Sox in favor of a four-year deal with New York.

Clemens initially left Boston for another division rival, Toronto. Two years later, he was traded to New York, where he helped the Yankees win two more titles in four World Series appearances.

Of course, Clemens also has the whole perjury and steroid scandal thing over his head, which baseball fans the world over may put in the category of traitorous.

No. 1: LeBron James

LeBron James went to new heights to declare his controversial intentions.

Playing in Cleveland, James was King. His statistics were often head-shakingly high. And as James was born in nearby Akron, Ohio, the old idea of player loyalty was even more so embedded in the Cavalier fans.

All of this came crashing down on July 8, 2010, with "The Decision." During a live TV special, James made his free agent destination known with the infamous words, "I am taking my talents to South Beach."

He got criticism for the self-aggrandizement, let alone his decision to play for the Miami Heat with other big-name free agents. Factor in his scant notification to the other suitors, including his Cavs, and we have ourselves a wonderfully news-making traitor story.

Just ask Cavaliers owner, Dan Gilbert, whose scathing (and funny) letter to fans described the leaving LeBron in non-flattering terms.

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