Michael Douglas playing financial wizard, Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie ‘Wall Street,’ made those words famous. Twenty-eight years later add words like ego, self-serving, dishonesty, no shame, extreme wealth and it pretty much sums up the world we live in today.
The world of sports memorabilia unfortunately cannot hide from the evil we as society have become. The simple truth is, if money is involved then even the innocence of a simple autograph becomes the price that must be paid. Sadly the days of fans waiting outside a venue for the player or players is slipping away. Why stand outside a cold arena when for the cost of $50-100, anyone can meet the said player in person or have it sent to me in the mail. Economics ‘101’ supply and demand.
Social media has taken the need for information to the extreme. Fans have access to player’s personal lives today, to the point of exploitation. Therefore, the demand for access has brought with it a price tag where we have no one to blame but ourselves.
A few years ago Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds charged fans $5,000 to attend a meet and greet with them. The paying fan was guaranteed at least a few minutes to speak one-on-one with both players. These two at the time were two of the highest paid professional athletes in the world.
Lebron James went on National TV to announce his move from Cleveland to Miami. He before his first game upon returning to Cleveland this year had the fans vote whether he should throw the powder in the air before he did each game and also what number he should wear? This is the same guy in the playoffs this year that pulled himself out of a game with cramps and was carried off the court like a parent putting his child to bed. His team was losing at the time and eventually lost the game.
Bob Baun of the Toronto Maple Leafs scored the winning goal in game six of the 1964 Stanley Cup final in overtime, on a broken leg. He played in game seven as well.
Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Black Hawks after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, during his post game interview didn’t use the word “I” once, instead consistently used the word “we” when acknowledging the victory. Lebron James during his post game championship press conference with the Miami Heat, used the word “I” over twenty times and never once uttered the word “we.”
Listen I’m not here to dispute the elite talents of a James, Bonds or Rodriguez, far from it. The issue is, jerks like these guys think they are bigger than the game they play and it’s hurting to attract new audiences who only see the greed and sense of entitlement the game has created. Why should I as a fan, pay crazy prices for tickets to make these guys wealthy when they in turn couldn’t care less about me as the fan? It’s all about them. Weren’t these guys kids once and dreamed of being a certain player; playing the game they loved on the streets and playgrounds?
Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball talent of all time and arguably the most influential athlete ever in sports, couldn’t just gracefully exit the game. In almost embarrassingly fashion he tried to hang on to the point people just finally tuned him out.
Pete Rose, MLB all-time hits leader can be found signing anything put in front of him for a buck these days. One of the most sad and pathetic scenes I’ve ever witnessed was Rose sitting at a table outside a sports memorabilia store in Las Vegas by himself, with hundreds of people hustling by and few even taking notice.
While I appreciate these are extreme cases, these guys set the bar for kids following in the same path. These clowns also forget the reason they are allotted such a lifestyle is because of the people paying to watch them play, not the other way around. But again we as the general public accept this as the way it is and we helped create this fairy tale illusion.
A number of years ago I attended the Special Olympics dinner, at the Royal York. This is a very upscale black-tie event, with huge media coverage and a massive fundraiser. I spotted Vince Carter of the Raptors standing by himself and thought, why don’t I get him to sign my program for the kids. Approaching Carter I politely asked him to sign my program. There wasn’t a person around him at the time. You would have thought I asked him for his right leg. I was shocked. He hummed and hawed, looked skyward and finally relented and scribbled on the program. My initial reaction was to just walk away and tell this idiot to shove it. I thought maybe he’s just in a bad mood so be a bigger person. Its funny how an incident like that can say a lot about a person, because Carter as it would turn out, showed his true colours a few years later. Remember this guy not only quit on his team he showed no shame in doing so.
The problem with all this is we again as fans allow this to happen. Collecting starts at the grassroots level. Its all about the game first and foremost, so if you have a bad taste in your mouth to begin with, where’s the passion? The cards, coins, pictures, pieces of equipment and anything related to game come as a result of our admiration, respect or even love of the player, team or sport. You lose that lifeline and it then becomes all about the dollars and cents.
A friend of mine told me a couple years ago he had the honour of escorting Jean Béliveau around at an event he was attending at the Hockey Hall of Fame. After a long day and Béliveau’s health an issue, he was walking him back to the hotel. Reaching the hotel, they noticed a group of fans waiting for the players outside the front entrance. My friend told Jean that he knew another way into the hotel and he could avoid all the people out the front. Béliveau turned to him and said,
“Thank you, but not a chance will I do that, those people made me who I am today and I won’t disappoint them.”
He stood and signed autographs for almost an hour for all the people waiting.
The only thing wrong with this story is, he didn’t play for the Leafs.