Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sign Here (Please?)

For a moment, I wished very badly that I hadn’t asked Dennis Rodman for his autograph. Let’s put it this way: I was also glad, in that moment, that we were in a crowded bar & grill, where there were dozens of witnesses.

I had approached Rodman, the erstwhile Pistons forward/goofball, at Ginopolis Bar & Grill in Farmington Hills, circa 1990. He was in a booth with a few other folks, and my friend Chris Gerbasi and I were on our way out, having watched the NCAA college basketball championship game.

“Hey, Dennis, can I trouble you for an autograph?,” I asked, my cardboard coaster and a pen in hand. I was friendly, non-threatening. Rodman’s six-foot-eight. He can be very threatening.

Rodman kind of closed his eyes, gave a sigh, and then looked at me. No, not looked. Glared. It was as if time stopped for a couple of seconds. Or was that my heart?

Rodman took the coaster, signed it “Dennis ‘Worm’ Rodman #10,” and slid it back to me. I thanked him, he smirked, and Gerbasi and I scrammed. I jetted out of the place with the same urgency as if I’d just stolen some DNA evidence.

I’m not one to ask for autographs anymore. It’s unbecoming, being a member of the media now. But I’ve always been able to recognize, in public, people of varying degrees of celebrity. I just don’t approach them anymore, unless it’s to say Hi and wish them well. I’m a good well-wisher. I once even saw the mayor of my town, Warren – Mark Steenbergh – at Oakland Mall around the holidays and said, “How are ya, Mr. Mayor?,” while my wife rolled her eyes.

All this comes to mind because Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers was involved in an incident last Saturday night, and it revolved around the hounder for an autograph.

Seems Rogers was approached late Saturday night/early Sunday morning by a fan -- I won’t give the dude anymore publicity than he’s already gotten by using his name – outside the players’ parking structure outside Comerica Park. The Tigers had lost that night in a rain-delayed affair, their fourth loss in a row as they saw their divisional title hopes slipping away. Doubtful that Rogers was in the best of moods at the time.

So the guy asks for the autograph. What happened after that is questionable, because there are a few different versions. Surprise, surprise.

In the fan’s version, Rogers declined the request, the fan – whose son was in the backseat of his car – used some salty language, and Rogers approached him. According to the fan, Rogers took hold of the fan’s shirt collar and reiterated that the request would not be granted.

In other witnesses’ versions, the fan pounded on Rogers’ car, which prompted the pitcher to approach the fan. The fan flatly denies touching Rogers’ car, and even boasted that he would take a lie detector test to prove that he didn’t – or to prove that he’s a really good liar. Not sure which. Rogers denies touching the fan.

The day after the incident was reported by the local newspapers, the fan added a human element to his story by saying that his son, who “worships” Rogers, was in the background, “hobbling along” on a broken leg. God bless us everyone.

Regardless, the fan filed a complaint. And this all came out as the Tigers arrived in New York to begin their playoff series with the Yankees. But then, 24 hours or so later, the fan backed off, saying he’d drop the whole matter. All Rogers had to do was apologize, and the fan would call it square.

“I would hope this doesn’t create a distraction for [Rogers],” the fan said. “I was wrong, too. All I really want is for him to apologize.”

No dice, Rogers said. The fan, Rogers said, wasn’t telling the truth about the incident. And he wasn’t about to say “I’m sorry” for something he didn’t do. Rogers might be a tad touchy about these kinds of things, and who can blame him? In 2005, if you recall, he was thrust into the spotlight thanks to an ugly physical confrontation with a video cameraman that was caught on tape by other video cameramen. He who lives in glass houses shouldn’t throw cameramen.

Look, there’s nothing in any professional athlete’s contract that stipulates he or she has to sign autographs whenever they’re requested.

I’m not sure where this all stands right now. The Tigers’ 2-1 lead in the series has sort of pushed this incident off the pages. In fact, if Rogers was distracted, then I say we accost him more often, because he pitched 7 2/3 innings of brilliant baseball in Game 3 Friday night. I can tell you that it may very possibly have been the best pitching performance I’ve seen in Detroit. Ever.

But the lesson to all this is this: If to whom you’re directing your autograph request rejects you, drop it. It’s over. Walk away. Curse if you’d like, under your breath. Go home and make a voodoo doll of that individual and stick pins in it, if that’ll make you feel better. Start a blog. Whatever floats your boat. But at the moment of declination, walk away.

Look, there’s nothing in any professional athlete’s contract that stipulates he or she has to sign autographs whenever they’re requested. Or any celebrity, for that matter. Sure, it would be nice if every request was satisfied, but that’s not reality. And as disappointing as a “no” might be, tough cookies.

If the fan had nodded, said “OK,” and been on his way, none of this mumbo-jumbo would have happened. He denies touching Rogers’ car. Fine. But he does acknowledge using abusive language toward Rogers. Wrong, pal. That’s unacceptable. So Rogers didn’t feel like giving an autograph at that time – nearly 1 a.m. on a Saturday night near his car. Deal with it. For all he knew, the fan was more than just a fan. I might be a tad creeped out myself if someone was lurking near my vehicle at that hour.

But there’s this feeling of entitlement fans get, just because athletes and celebrities make lots of money. “The least they can do is sign an autograph,” some fans believe. Maybe that’s true. But if they don’t, that’s their prerogative, too. Hurling insults and acting like a petulant child doesn’t make them say yes. All it does is lay the groundwork for the confrontation that occurred outside Comerica Park last weekend.

Sometimes your heroes say yes, sometimes they don’t. And when the answer is no, the best thing to do is acknowledge the disappointing reply and walk away.

Did I mention that my wife is very artsy craftsy and can make voodoo dolls by request?

No comments: