Poor Cam Newton.
Not poor Cam Newton. An NFL quarterback, with multi-year contracts and endorsement deals, cannot be called *poor*, unless he’s gambled his earnings away, or squandered them on wine, women and song, or left them in a Hefty bag in the backseat of a taxi cab.
Or if he’s torn a knee ligament just before the playoffs and can’t play. Then it’d be, “*poor* (insert quarterback’s name here – I don’t want to jinx anyone), he can’t play in the playoffs.”
Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers star quarterback, isn’t poor in any of those ways.
He’s poor in that he’s under fire for his participation in an autograph session that will charge more than $100 per signature. Ripped. Grilled.
Raked over the coals.
Thing is, I don’t know if it’s his fault.
I’m not defending Cam, or justifying his actions. Depending on your position – Pro Cam: He’s a dynamic personality and fitting face for Charlotte sports; or, Anti-Cam: He’s a cheater and disgraceful presence in Charlotte Sports – you have an opinion of him. Or, you might forgo the love or hate, and just acknowledge him as The Man in Charlotte, the most recognizable athlete in town since Larry Johnson, Dale Earnhardt or Cornbread Maxwell.
But this pay-for-autographs thing isn’t a new abomination.
I resented Pete Rose on his visit to a Greeley, Colo., card convention. He had the audacity to charge $25 for his signature. But that was way back in the 80s. And I was a kid. And Pete Rose was relevant. Sort of. I bet now Pete wishes he were a second-year NFL quarterback with star appeal and lots of athletic ability.
When I got the email from Southpark Mall about Cam’s autograph session, I imagined my three girls with me there, among a throng of fans in Panthers gear, hoping for a little Sharpie-pen action on a cap or T-shirt.
Maybe my replica Panthers helmet. It’d be like when I was Grace’s age, abuzz about a mall trip during the Denver Broncos’ first Super Bowl season. I met backup quarterback Norris Wiese, and got his signature on our “Rolling to the Dome” Super Bowl T-shirts.
Only that memorable day didn’t set the Pachecos back two weeks of groceries.
I imagine Cam, and his billboard-and-Gatorade-commercial worthy smile, sitting uncomfortably at a table in an upscale neighborhood mall, thinking “cha-ching” for every kid or grown-up who plunks down the bounty.
Or would he be? Now that I think of it, I wonder how uncomfortable I’d be if some agency vowed to pay me a lump sum – or cut of a profit – if I did something easy to me, such as drink directly from the juice carton, scratch my feet or watch “Leave It To Beaver.”
You’re right. I’d feel a little uncomfortable.
Especially if I knew for every kid who could afford the pleasure of my signature, there were 50 outside, or on the other side of town, wearing sun-bleached No. 1 jerseys, tucking the ball under their arm to scramble like Cam does, to replicate his Superman touchdown celebration the nation got to see from our new star – who couldn’t.
(I also think your autograph-chasing days should end when you begin taking interest in the opposite sex. I know it should have for me at McNichol’s Arena in Denver, around age 12. For Nathan, Ray and me, it went from “Hey! There’s Fat Lever! Get his autograph!” to “Hey! That girl in the Bangles T-shirt just smiled at you! Get her number!”)
Athletes have said “I don’t sign for anyone taller than me,” or, “I’ll sign only one thing. If you have more than one item, it’ll just end up on e-Bay.” Part of this is born of our inability to just enjoy the signature for itself without having to look it up in a price guide.
Or post it in an auction.
An autograph used to mean something. Not on E-bay, though. Not on the free market. Not with a letter of authenticity or hologram or recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration or Council for Exploitation Among Sports Fans.
(They have a chapter near Charlotte Motor Speedway with really expensive shag carpeting, I’m told).
An autograph used to mean something because it came with a story – not documents of authentication.The stories came because, even though you were a kid, you figured out which exit the teams came out to board the team bus.
The stories came because you had to sprint to the other side of campus to catch the future team star riding his bike back to the dorm after training camp two-a-days.
They came because you snuck onto the team bus as it was loading and a Hall of Fame coach decided to sign your program rather than have you tossed (yes, this happened to me, with former San Francisco 49ers legend Bill Walsh!)
Autographed items sometimes get smudged by the athlete’s sweat, or the rainy conditions, or because you slept with the signed mitt under your pillow for sixth months. These won’t fetch a lot of bids on e-Bay, but they’ll probably end up in a case somewhere in your adulthood, where they’ll be told about.
There’s not much to be told about an autograph you had to pay for.
I mean, 125 bucks. You could visit a chiropractor for that. Pay a small factory of child laborers. For a month. Even pay for someone to date you. Or at least give you an expensive haircut. And blow dry.
Even if the price were $2.25, I’d still balk at this. An autograph ought to be captured. Procured.
Caught on your own. Like a fish. Or a cool gem from a gem mine.
Or even a girlfriend.
Imagine if Cam Newton had to pay us to come to his games.
“Poor* Cam Newton, we’d say.