06 June 2012

Fans versus Athletes

One of the most famous signatures of all time
  A young kid waits patiently at the end of a long row of adults.  Everyone lined up, crowding one another, pushing to get closer as the approaching athlete walks closer.  Arms extended, hands holding gear to be signed, pictures, magazines, and other memorabilia all waiting to find out if they will be lucky enough to gain the autograph they each seek.  The young kind continues to wait, not pushing, not yelling, but standing eagerly awaiting his idol to get close enough that he may acquire the signature he so desperately wants.  As the easily recognizable figure walks past, ignoring each of the fans, hecklers, and haters, the little boy can only watch and lower his arm holding the outreached object.  Yet another superstar who ignores those seeking his attention, time, and signature.  A signature.  Something we do everytime we write a letter, sign a check, pay a credit card transaction, or sign a card.  A signature.  Why do athletes today feel like stopping to give an autograph is beneath them, not worth their time, or not something they will do – for free.  Yes, they will line tables for hours signing everything you throw at them for money, but they often choose to walk past the line of true fans when it comes to not getting paid. 

     Any given athlete will walk right past someone, whether they stop to sign an autograph or not, just saying hello to that young fan will be something they remember for ever.  When I was 13 years old I got the change to meet Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning at a Charlotte Hornets basketball game, both said hello to me, neither would sign autographs.  I doubt either of them remembered my face 10 minutes after saying hello to me, but as a young kid, that stayed with me even until today.  I remember Larry Johnson giving me a high-five as he ran past me towards the tunnel to the locker room. 

     I understand that stopping to sign autographs can lead to a lengthy delay in getting to where they need to go.  They sign for one person, then another runs up, and before long the mobs don’t stop coming.  I get it.  So, a fan, like myself, I carry my camera when I attend sporting events, in the off-chance I pass an athlete or celebrity and can snap a quick photo – either of them with me, or just them as they pass.  More often than not, most athletes and celebrities don’t really care when a fan snaps a quick photo or two as they pass by, or during a game, as long as you aren’t disturbing them during times like dinner, when they are with their family, or worse – the bathroom.  There’s no contract that an athlete signs to give full permission for us as fans to take their picture, just like there’s no waiver we sign as fans that say they have the right to refuse us their photo.

     Without the fans filling the seats, often paying outrageous prices for tickets, merchandise, and food in the various venues, athletes wouldn’t have their jobs.  Athletes like LeBron James, Tom Brady, and Prince Fielder all make more money in a month than most of us will see in a year, yet we save our paychecks for several weeks until we get enough to get that one ticket to see our favorite star play.  We wait patiently in line to get in, run down to the seats and hope to see them warming up, getting lose, or maybe if we’re lucky, signing a few autographs.

     Without fans athletes would be unemployed.  The lifestyle they have grown accustomed to, gone.  The fancy cars, clothes, and big homes, gone.  Interviews, magazine covers, and endorsement deals, gone.  A year ago only a select handful of people knew who Jeremy Lin was, but after a series of injuries and forced playing time the entire world knows who he is.  Fans stormed the stores to buy jerseys, t-shirts, and memorabilia in support of “Lin-Sanity.”  This knew found popularity skyrocketing Lin to the top of the charts in sales.  He will certain gain a new contract, not because of the fans, but because of his ability and skills, however, it’s the fan support that buys the merchandise, tickets, and goods, which give revenue to the teams that pay the salary.  You can be the greatest athlete in the world, but without fans supporting you, you’re just another face in the crowd.

Phil was unable to complete the Memorial
after having his photo taken by a cell
phone camera.
     Why do I say all this?  Phil Mickelson is upset about fans taking his picture during a recent golf tournament, the Memorial Open.  I understand golf is a quiet game, fans are expected to be quiet, remain still, and respect the athletes as they hit shots.  My response is simple, Phil, you make $57,000,000 year (estimated from Golf.com), you can’t handle a few fans taking your picture?  For that kind of money, I’d stand for a few hours before or after my match and take all the pictures they wanted, sign some autographs, kiss some babies, and even help the little old lady cross the road.  We’re not talking about a guy who is struggling to get by on minimum wage, trying to feed a family, barely able to make a house payment, we’re talking about a guy who’s in the upper 10% of our society, top 6 of his profession, complaining about a few fans taking his picture while he plays.  Seriously??  I would love to see the contract Phil Mickelson signed that ensured he would be free of photographs while playing golf.  I would love to know how much money Phil would make if the U.S. Open sold zero tickets;  If no one showed up for the 2013 Masters in Augusta. 

     I think when Phil is teeing off to hit, he’s entitled to quiet fans around him, but you’re a professional athlete in a sport where you’re paid millions of dollars, why not act like a PROFESSIONAL?  Stop your whining, go out, play golf, and be thankful people actually like you enough to sneak a phone in to get your picture. 

     I have no problems with an athlete refusing to sign an autograph, it’s their right.  I have no problem with an athlete refusing to stand and take a photo with me, it’s their right.  I do have a huge problem with a professional athlete who, for however long it might be, forgets that the fans are what make the sport great, the fans are who pay the money that contributes to their salary, and the fans are the ones who wait for hours in lines to see them for a mere few seconds as they pass by.

     I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas Robinson on Bourbon Street in New Orleans the day following Kansas’ loss to Kentucky in the NCAA title game.  People walking all around and Thomas was glad to stop and pose for a photograph with me, shake my hand, and ask my name.  I told him he played a great game, I wished him the best of luck on his future, and he thanked me before he turned to walk away.  His team just lost the biggest game of their season, and he had time to talk with 2 UK fans wearing UK gear.  Mr. Mickelson, you could stand to learn a few things.
Kansas University superstar Thomas Robinson and Me in New Orleans, LA
2012 following KU's loss to the Kentucky Wildcats for the
NCAA National Championship.

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