We're most of us human billboards, eagerly donning shoes, shirts, jeans and so many other items conspicuously labeled on the
outside with the manufacturers' names. But now comes the National Football League to say it doesn't have to be that way -
at least not for some of us.
For seven years, NFL coaches have prowled the sidelines dressed by order of the league in casual clothing that displays
the big and bright logos of Reebok, under a 10-year, $250 million contract between the sporting goods firm and the NFL.
This coming season, however, will be different for two coaches. For them, Reebok has generously waived the contract requirement
that coaches wear Reebok stuff. The two coaches will dress in proper suits and ties, as they requested, in order to honor
the earlier generation of coaches who dressed that way long before Reebok came along.
It's only a slight blow against human billboarding, true. But it's nevertheless a move in the right direction, and you
have to start somewhere.
It wasn't easy. It took a two-year campaign by the San Francisco 49ers coach, Mike Nolan, and heavy pressure from 49er
fans to convince the NFL and Reebok to agree. Nolan wanted to honor his ailing father, Dick, who coached the 49ers in coat
and tie from 1968 to 1975.
Also granted permission to dress as in the good old days was Jack Del Rio of the Jacksonville Jaguars. There is a little
catch, though: Nolan and Del Rio can dress the old-time way only during home games.
And, oh yes, there's a new NFL rule for the 2007 season that requires on-field photographers to wear bright red vests
featuring logos for Reebok and camera maker Canon.
Players also have to be careful of their attire. Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Orlacher will tell you that. The league
fined him $100,000 for wearing a cap during Super Bowl Media Day this year that promoted a sports drink, Vitaminwater, rather
then the NFL's officially authorized drink, Gatorade. What's worse, Orlacher actually drank from a bottle of the unauthorized
liquid, right there in front of reporters from all over the world.
Football, of course, isn't the only sport with human billboards. Think of race car drivers, plastered head to foot with
product logos, and golfers and basketball players, professional and college, soccer players and others, even Olympic athletes
bearing the ubiquitous Nike swoosh and other commercial symbols.
Although Major League Baseball has been relatively free of player billboards, there have been serious attempts to bring
the National Pastime into line with the other sports, and it seems certain they eventually will succeed. Team owners already
have slapped ads on just about everything else - outfield fences, backstops, scoreboards, even dugout walls and foul poles.
It isn't just money-grubbing capitalists who do it, either. You probably saw the photos of Fidel Castro recuperating in
a hospital bed that were released last Fall by the Cuban government. And what was Cuba's Marxist-in-chief wearing but a red,
white and blue jacket, apparently part of Cuba's Olympic uniforms, with an Adidas logo plastered on the front.
And it's not new. Mark Twain satirized it a long time ago in "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court."
His 19th century novel had jousting knights wearing ads on their body armor, such as "Use Peterson's Prophylactic Tooth-Brush
- all the go."
So what's next, if we don't stop it soon? Could be animal billboarding. There's a company in the Netherlands that's already
doing it. For the edification of passing motorists, it has put jackets emblazoned with the company name in large white letters
on a flock of sheep that's been put out to graze alongside a rural highway .
Copyright (c) 2007 Dick Meister