Friday, November 11, 2005

Nice socks!

Beauty is a curse on the world

If I take a job at Best Buy, they're going to make me wear a blue shirt. The blue shirt is not an attempt to wipe out my individuality or to suppress my personality. It is not intended to humiliate me, degrade me or otherwise put me in my place. The company is not telling me what to think, just how to dress when I'm on the clock. If I don't like it, I can go work at Circuit City, where I ain't got to wear no blue shirt. Instead, I'll be required to wear a red shirt. Both companies believe that customers respond best to neatly dressed, professional-looking employees who project a uniform appearance.

That's why they call them uniforms.

This comes up because once again an NFL player is being fined for violating the league's very specific and very strict uniform guidelines. In this case, Redskins running back Clinton Portis has been cracked for $20,000 for wearing black shoes during a game when the rest of his team wore white and for wearing striped, burgundy socks rather than the white mandated by the league.

There are so many directions you could run with this. The most common is to bang on the No Fun League for taking such petty matters so seriously. But considering how so many players like to style themselves "warriors," you do have to wonder how the Marines would deal with a gent who refused to wear regulation black socks because he fancied burgundy and stripes. Or you could mimic the NBA dress-code debate and wonder what the hell's wrong with these kids today with their wild clothes and their wild hair and condoms and bling-bling-bling and rock 'n' roll. But either would be missing the larger point, which is: How foolish is Clinton Portis?

Portis seems like a good chap. He's putting up respectable if not remarkable numbers this year (620 yards, 4.2 yards per carry). He wears funny outfits on Thursdays to keep things loose in his weekly meetings with reporters. My biggest knock on him has been that horrid Hungry Man commercial he did with Jeremy Shockey and Warren Sapp, which doesn't just fail to make me want to eat TV dinners, it kind of turns me off on the whole idea of food. But, Clinton, do you really think it's wise to spend $20,000 on a pair of socks? There wasn't anything better you, your family, your church or maybe some poor kid in your neighborhood could have done with that kind of money?

It doesn't matter that the $20,000 will go to NFL Charities. And it doesn't matter that it's only a small percentage of the man's salary; it's still a lot of money. Donald Trump would throw down over $20,000. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, too. Oprah, definitely. Because they all know that $20,000 is real money -- and the rich respect money as much as or more than the rest of us.

Twenty bucks is an even smaller percentage of my salary than $20,000 is of Portis'. I can blow $20 in a day on beef jerky and iTunes. But if my boss told me that I was expected to wear a tie every damn day or I'd be docked $20, rest assured I'd wear a tie every damn day. To quote Jay Mohr, of all people: "You work for a corporation, the corporation wants you to dress a certain way, you dress a certain way." Again, it's not about suppressing players' individuality; it's about the league wanting its teams to present a uniform appearance. And why's that so important? Because as Jerry Seinfeld (what is it with the comedians today?) observed: In the era of free agency, it's really the uniforms people are cheering for, not the players. Portis or others may not like that fans see the uniforms first, players second, but that's how the league gets the money to pay them enough that they can afford to drop $20,000 for the sake of striped, burgundy socks.

In the end, though, what's most troubling to me about seeing a player throw away more than many people make in a year just so he can wear the socks he chooses is that he's in danger of money troubles down the road, when the big NFL checks stop coming. I don't care that pro athletes make a lot of money. NFL players in particular go through hell to get it, and with catastrophic injury always a play away, they need to cash in while they can. The average player gets about three to four years. To waste $20,000 in one day on a stupid, needless fine is just poor money management.

Some might use my argument to illustrate why such fines shouldn't be imposed at all, but that's setting up the league's Lords of Discipline as straw men. Ridiculous or not, the fines are there; the rules are clear. A $20,000 uniform-code violation is a completely avoidable fine. This isn't a mistake or an oversight on Portis' part. This isn't an end-zone celebration getting out of hand or a frustrated Jake Plummer giving the crowd the finger. Portis planned ahead of time to put on his darling striped socks, and he knew he'd be fined because it's happened before. If this is how he chooses to spend money on the field, how wisely is he spending it off the field?

But it ain't my money, so I'm done worrying about it.


Rich Lanthier said...

Beef Jerky and Itunes? $20 a day? We gotta talk... Where do you get your jerky? :) Smart shoppers shop shoppers!

I never saw that Hungry Man commercial (are there no hungry woman meals? What would they look like, POUNDS of SALAD???). Anyway, random, disconnected, irrelevant late night thoughts ...


PCS said...

Well, more iTunes than jerky ...

Maybe the ad only runs on the NFL Network, but it's truly bizarre. Portis is swaggering through a supermarket, amassing a huge pile of TV dinners because he's a Hungry Man (TM), apparently. He takes them out to the parking lot, where Sapp is waiting in a Hummer with, bizarrely, Shockey in the passenger seat. To make room for his TV dinners in the back of the Hummer, Portis yanks Sapp's speakers out of the vehicle. The ad ends with the Hummer driving off, dragging the speakers behind it.

It reminded me a lot of the Kurosawa epic "Ran," except that instead of medieval Japan, it took place in a modern-day supermarket, and instead of samurai, if featured Hungry Men.