One aspect of the Enron mess that should not go unnoticed is the fact that last year, the Houston Astros played baseball in a place called Enron Field. This week, they finally started to remove all the Enron signs from the stadium. They still haven't come up with a new name for the place. Right now, the owners are probably tossing around ideas like Bankruptcy Ballpark, Sham Stadium, and Fraud Field.
Despite my compassion, a larger part of me can't help feeling like it serves the Astros right. Why do teams have to keep naming stadiums after companies that have nothing to do with sports? I shouldn't be surprised in a world where Viagra is the sponsor for NASCAR, but isn't it about time that organized sports climbed to the top row of Fly By Night Field and yelled, "No more commercialization?" The San Francisco Giants play in PacBell Stadium, the Washington Wizards in the MCI Center, and the Arizona Diamondbacks in Bank One Ballpark. These names don't make me think of sports. They make me think of profit and loss sheets, of stock portfolios, and of executives deciding how many workers to lay off over $200 bottles of wine and Cuban cigars.
What happened to naming a ballpark for its owner like Wrigley Field or Comiskey Park, or for its team like Yankee and Dodger Stadiums? Will we ever see stirring names like Soldier Field or Memorial Stadium again? Probably not. Someday, we might be watching the Florsheim Shoes World Series in Polident Park. Would you really want to watch the Heavyweight Championship of the World in Pampers Square Garden?
Maybe it all started with tennis. Years ago, players started wearing those patches to advertise tennis gear, and before we knew it, they were walking billboards. The latest straw in commercialized sports is that the domed stadium where the St. Louis Rams play will soon be named, "Edward Jones," after a brokerage house. That's ridiculous. When I watch sports, I want to think about Barry Bonds, not junk bonds.
Many of college football's Bowl games have been besmirched by corporate name-calling. This year, not only did we have things like the FedEx Orange Bowl and the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, but we actually had something called the Galleryfurniture.com Bowl. The first Rose Bowl game was played in 1902. Can you imagine anyone 100 years from now talking about the century of tradition at the storied Galleryfurniture.com Bowl?
The irony is that several companies who allied themselves with sports haven't done all that well. The Baltimore Ravens' PSINET stadium and the Carolina Panthers' National Car Rental Center will have to be renamed because their sponsors have filed for bankruptcy. And that brokerage house that wants its name on the Rams' stadium? First they'll have to remove the letters "TWA" from the dome because TWA won't even have any letters on airplanes anymore. Maybe other big corporations will see how these companies have fared and will stay away from sports sponsorship to avoid the jinx. It would be nice if that would put an end to this trend, but I'm not holding my breath.
Proof that things have gone way too far has come to us courtesy of boxing. A recent issue of "Sports Illustrated" provided the evidence in a photograph (and, not surprisingly, television's "Celebrity Boxing" furthered the odious trend). The photo shows two boxers fighting. The one facing away from us has huge letters inked onto his back spelling out the name of an online casino. On his skin! He lost the fight, by the way. Maybe by his next fight, those letters will be in red ink.
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Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver