Once in a while I spot something that elicits an “Aw come ON” from me as I read it. Let’s see if you agree. The piece was in yesterday’s USAToday and was a front page article in the sports section on the topic of high school football all-stars. You can click-through the previous link to read it if you care to. In a nutshell, participants in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl are asked to sign a couple of hundred trading cards each. The kids aren’t told what the cards are for nor are they made to participate. It’s “an opportunity, not a requirement.” The cards are sold and in some cases they become quite valuable. No money goes to the kids.
While I have some qualms about that, what caused the aforementioned response is the attitudes displayed by the adults involved:
“The answer is, ‘Well, you don’t have to.’ But for many of these players, this will be the only time in their athletic careers they are on a trading card. To be singled out at that point in time for their athletic achievement is not a bad thing.” Leaf CEO Brian Gray says there is no pressure put on the high school players and they have the option to decline. “But really,” he says, “If you don’t want to be on the card, there’s something wrong with you.”
Seriously? Anyone care to name an athlete who knowingly permits their name, likeness, and autograph to be used for purely commercial purposes without any compensation? I’ll wait. Didn’t think so. Most of the kids think the cards are being used for non-commercial purposes – donations to soldiers, for example. They are never told, and when they find out they don’t really understand how much some of them are worth. Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck (a Stanford grad and by all accounts a smart man) objected to the card being issued, saying he had never approved it. The company’s response:
Leaf responded by suing him, saying it had a First Amendment right to do so, claiming that the game operators had granted Leaf the license to player likenesses. The 2008 game was before Leaf began issuing sets of trading cards from the game, but it has issued alumni cards – such as the 2008 Luck card.
Now, I’m in my third decade working in sports and I’ve NEVER heard anyone claim they can issue merchandise as part of the First Amendment. There’s a multi-billion dollar business called licensing that would disappear if that’s the truth. Rationalization aside, why not just tell the kids clearly upfront what’s going on? Hiding something?
One of my favorite Saturday Night Live characters is Dan Aykroyd playing a smarmy guy named Irwin Mainway who, among other things, sells “Bag O’Glass” and caters a school breakfast program with coffee and cigarettes. His take is that “it’s a bottomless cup of coffee” makes it all just fine. No, it really doesn’t and the trading card company’s isn’t OK either. You agree?