$ign here: Something to think about before you pay for an autograph


photo credit: andres musta via photopin cc
photo credit: andres musta via photopin cc

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.

photo credit: Cedes.10thWonder via photopin cc
photo credit: Cedes.10thWonder via photopin cc

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.

photo credit: PDA.PHOTO via photopin cc
photo credit: PDA.PHOTO via photopin cc

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.

photo credit: jillig via photopin cc
photo credit: jillig via photopin cc

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.

hornsby quote


  1. AnnMarie says:

    Wow…I feel pretty lucky that I got Troy Aikman’s for free. I’d love it if he was sitting there and no one showed up because it is ridiculous to charge that much or people showed up to see him but no one paid that. It’s what drives me crazy about famous people. It’s the fans that make them and they should be more appreciative. Charging $100 for an autograph doesn’t show appreciation. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

    1. it’s better when you get them for free – when you wait it out at training camp, or catch them coming out of a restaurant, or see them out and about. There was an hours worth of fans who paid for Cam’s autograph, apparently. I know it’s the agency who gets the dough, but still, it’s the image, you know?

      I realize also that he gives free signatures other places, and donates his time to sign for good causes. I suppose if there are people who will pay that price, who am i to complain, right?

      1. ashleyinnc says:

        So jealous of you AnnMarie. Troy was totally my high school and part of college future husband! 😉
        I think it is ridiculous to charge for an autograph event, but as long as people are willing to pay (and they will be) then it will happen. It is gross.

      2. Awkward. Troy, care to comment? Lying dog.

        It is kinda gross. Like paying for … well, stuff. If you’re not there on your own merit, it shouldn’t count.

        On a Troy-related note: I remember the story of a fan who saw Troy Aikman in a restaurant, sat on his lap, licked his face, and said, “I want you.” No word on whether she was listed as a daily special.

        Makes me wonder if either of you two were in that restaurant with Troy that day.

  2. I went out to lunch with some co-workers back in December at The Cheesecake Factory in Southpark. Our waitress had told us that and a few of his buddies were there the night before to dine. However, the did not leave a tip… Apparently b/c of his ‘status’, more than one waitress, busboy, etc bent over backwards to wait on the table but was given nothing from he and his commrades. Although I believe that he is a great football player, I also believe that he’s an A$$ in person.

    1. That’s a good way to get a bad rep among restaurant servers in town. If I stiff them on a tip, they just complain about that dude in the beat-up Rockies cap. When you wear No. 1 on Sundays, they tend to know your name.

      I think I’d be a lousy NFL quarterback, not because of my height or inability to read a cover-2 defense, but because I’d probably leave really good tips, and I’d eat out all the time, meaning i’d put away stuff at Cheesecake Factory on a regular basis, and I’d spend my money quickly, too.

      I’d soon be out of shape and light on the wallet. I could do that without being an NFL quarterback.

      In all seriousness, this is how reputations are made, aren’t they? It appears it’s made it for you, with him.

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