When sportswriter Jason Gay yesterday excoriated adults who seek and pay money for the autographs of other adults, he put into words what I’ve felt but never written: It’s “a generally bizarre and creepy behavior which has cast a toxic pall over what was once an innocent childhood ritual.”
Write on, Jason: “Asking for someone’s autograph is like trick-or-treating on Halloween: a cute and defensible activity that immediately becomes un-cute and indefensible the moment one turns, say, 12. But these days, it is difficult to be around any high-profile sports environment without seeing droves of full-grown people chasing after signatures, many of them to be turned around for fast sale to other full-grown people. … Little in athletic life is more depressing than seeing full-grown people shoving aside kids to get a signature.”
He even proposes: “… a public shaming technique, designed to limit autograph-seeking to people 16 and under. I believe I can get the signatures for such a rule, without pushing any kids out of the way.” That would do it. Several years ago, the best seats I’ve ever had at Yankee Stadium, 10 rows up from the field, were made better when a player tossed a ball to a small boy, and an adult reached out, intercepted it, and seemed ready to keep it. Fans all around (including me) started muttering, then yelling, “Give it to the kid. Give it to the kid.”
The adult finally did so, but offered a self-justifying quasi-apology to our mob: “I’ve never gotten a ball at a ball game.” I feel his pain; I haven’t either, and I would be sorely tempted. But one of the encouraging aspects of recent American life is that, watching games at ballparks and on television, I now regularly see adults catching foul balls and handing them to children, sometimes their own, and sometimes apparent strangers.
I’m hopeful that public shaming of adult autograph-seekers will work. How many adults unaccompanied by children came trick-or-treating to your house last Halloween?