May 1, 2013

Direct Kick: Why charge children for an autograph?

By Denis House
Sports Editor

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — “We are rich only through what we give”—Anne-Sophie Swetchine

“Greed is good”—Gordon Gekko

This column might upset a few people. I hope so.

Last week, Nerlens Noel made a visit to a few elementary schools in Laurel County. This isn’t the first time a UK player has visited Laurel schools, just the most recent. And I am sure this is happening in other parts of Kentucky.

Noel was there to sign autographs for his young fans. No wait, I made a mistake. He was there to sell autographs at $20 for a poster, $40 for a basketball and $50 for the combo. Now, even though his freshmen season ended early at UK due to an ACL injury, he declared for the NBA draft, and is projected to be the overall No. 1 pick.

If you use the 2012-2013 Rookie Pay Scale as a base example, his salary will be around $4,286,900 for the first year, $4,479,800 for the second year, and $4,672,700 for year three. Not bad for someone who has never played an NBA game in their life. I guess since he’s declared for the draft he is no longer a student at UK and can legally charge for an autograph. I think players should at least have to finish out their freshmen season even if they don’t plan on coming back.

So if he, along with other UK player who have sold their autographs to school children in the past, are going to be become instant multi-millionaires, why can’t they just sign these autographs for free? Are they really that greedy? Are the people promoting them that greedy?

Yes and yes.

In the past one UK player made what was billed as an “inspirational” visit to urge the children to do well on upcoming tests, then sold his autograph to those children who could afford it, while those who couldn’t, many UK fans, had to sit back and watch. Then later that day he appeared at the London Community Center to sign autographs, which I had no problem with because it was billed as an autograph session.

I remember when I was young UK used to make a barnstorming tour of the state, and after playing in an exhibition game, the players would sign autographs for the fans, for free. The NCAA put an end to those tours, which is a shame.

I guess those days are gone. Not many people do things for free anymore.

And to top it off none of the schools that Noel visited received anything for their time. All the money made (and in most cases we are talking a couple of thousand dollars) went to the pockets of Noel and his promoter, and I believe they visited five elementary schools in Laurel County that day.

If you were already an NBA player, I could maybe see selling your autographed merchandise. To adults. Those children that you took money from last week really didn’t think about the cost. They just asked mommy and daddy for the money. They didn’t think, wow, this is a lot of money. They just wanted to see you and get something signed.

I really wouldn’t be this upset if you had offered a choice: Either a child can purchase your autographed items, or you would sign a piece of paper for free, that way giving all the children who wanted your autograph something to take home.

But no. You had to be greedy.

Since this happened, we at the paper have heard a lot of complaints about Noel selling his autograph to the students. I guess I’m not the only one this has upset.

It’s time for people to quit taking advantage of young fans. I’m sure this was the only chance many of the youngsters will ever have to actually see a UK player in person. You might as well have charged them just to look.

I hope that in the future when schools are approached about letting an event take place like this they decline to allow it to happen unless the player signs for free.

Just because you played for UK doesn’t make you a god. Just ask Richie Farmer.