I believe it was William Shakespeare, or maybe Johnny Football, who asked, “What’s in a name?”
The answer is, if you’re a celebrity, “A lot of dough.”
Johnny Football, also known as Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, was caught signing autographs for cash. That’s an NCAA no-no, and got the Autographing Aggie benched for half a game.
Signing their John Hancock for Ben Franklins has often caused problems for athletes.
Even before Pete Rose was booted out of the Grand Old Game for betting on outcomes, he got in hot water for failing to report income derived from autograph sessions.
Not even Charlie Hustle could steal on the IRS.
He got picked off.
In NASCAR, drivers detest having to sign autographs.
They won’t admit it, of course, because according to their press releases they love being pestered by mobs of sweaty, boisterous race fans. But trust me, they hate it.
A driver once told me the secret to getting through a gauntlet of fans: “Keep moving. Sign a few autographs as you walk, but never stop. If you stop, you’ll be surrounded, cut off and trapped, like Custer.”
Even the great Richard Petty, who probably has signed more autographs than any person on the planet, at times has been known to get a tad testy.
Generally, however, Petty is patient with the autograph-seekers.
During his early days as a rising superstar in racing, Petty took a course in penmanship in order to improve his autograph signing. His signature, consisting of a series of graceful loops and curls, is a work of scrollwork art.
Other drivers’ autographs are mere scribbles compared to Petty’s, but they can be valuable scribbles.
A poster or die-cast car that’s worth $5 can sell for $50 if it bears the driver’s autograph.
It began to get out of hand years ago when long lines of autograph-seekers would form, carrying arm-loads of merchandise to be signed. Most of the signed merchandise would end up for sale in NASCAR souvenir shops and – later on – on eBay.
Eventually most drivers imposed a one-autograph limit.
The late Dale Earnhardt took it a step further: He would autograph only items that were sold by his merchandising company.
If someone asked him to sign a poster or a card that was sold by another company, Earnhardt would politely decline. And sometimes not so politely.
Some fans said the drivers were being snooty and rude, but I could see the drivers’ side. A lot of those so-called fans weren’t seeking an autograph to keep as a personal memento of their favorite driver. They were out to make a quick buck off of him.
Personally, I never had that problem.
The only time I’ve ever been asked for an autograph occurred one evening at a swank Daytona nightclub when a tawny Hawaiian Tropic suntan-lotion model came over and asked if I was race driver Neil Bonnett.
I said I certainly was.
She asked if I’d sign the t-shirt she was wearing.
I said I’d be delighted.
I wrote: “To Carla Jean, best wishes, and I hope you are enjoying your visit to Speed Weeks and the Daytona 500. Hasn’t the weather been swell all week? A bit humid in the afternoons, perhaps, but not too bad once the ocean breeze picks up. Let’s hope the rain holds off, even though I imagine area farmers could use it. Have a safe trip home, and good luck in your future modeling career …”
I’d have written more, but the felt-tip pen ran out of ink, darnit.