Thursday, July 14, 2011

Derek Jeter's 3000th Hit And The Puzzling Reaction

Last week, Yankees superstar shortstop, Derek Jeter, launched a homerun into the left fields stands for his milestone 3,000th hit.  And while that, of course, is a story itself, an interesting sub-story has emerged due to the actions of the lucky fan, Christian Lopez, that caught the home-run.
As any baseball fan knows, any milestone ball is worth a ton of cash at auction, and people-in-the-know estimated that the Jeter ball was worth somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 dollars.  But Lopez declined the option of keeping it and returned the ball to Jeter, who he claimed was its rightful owner.  In other words, Christian Lopez isn’t a greedy asshole and did the right thing.
The Yankees, of course, showered him with praise and lavish gifts that included luxury box seats for the rest of the season.  That all makes sense and is par for the course.  But because the IRS has a job to do, the taxes on those seats were believed to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 5k-14k, pending on whatever.  And this is where the story gets interesting to me.
Sponsors have come out of the woodwork to support Lopez.  Check it out:
•Beermaker. Miller High Life, which calls itself a "common sense" beer, offered to pay the estimated $14,000 tax bill for memorabilia and tickets that Lopez got as thanks from Jeter and the Yankees. "Miller High Life believes you should be rewarded for doing the right thing, not punished," says Brendan Noonan, brand manager. The company also offered to throw a beer party for Lopez and "legal drinking age friends." No decision, yet, from Lopez.
•Retailer. Modell's Sporting Goods has dubbed this "Christian Lopez Week" at Modell's, and will donate 5% of Yankee merchandise sales to Lopez. Minimum guarantee: $25,000. "We don't want anyone to think it's a publicity stunt," says Mitchell Modell, CEO of the chain known for aiding local causes. "We just want to celebrate this guy who has Yankee blood in his veins."
•Sports marketer. Steiner Sports Marketing, with ties to the Yankees and Jeter, is auctioning sports memorabilia on its site, with profits going to Lopez. Minimum guarantee: $25,000. "This guy's been good," says CEO Brandon Steiner. "I wanted to do something good for him."
•PR firm. JCPR, which specializes in financial public relations, is giving Lopez free PR advice. Owner Jennifer Connelly says a friend of Lopez's mother approached her when the family was overwhelmed with requests. "Who knows where this will take us?" she says. "We're a pay-it-forward kind of firm."

While this is all nice, I suppose, what does it say about society when people are SHOCKED that Lopez decided not to be greedy and to do the right thing?  In fact, so shocked that they are willing to throw money at him to celebrate his unselfishness?  This is like giving the class bully a free trip to Disneyworld because he didn’t steal his meek classmate’s cookies.  Now, I understand that Lopez’s name was probably buzzing on Twitter/Facebook/Google+/whatever, and that companies always jump on whatever is popular in the name of profit, but the simple fact that a good deed is worth the huge publicity, and that companies believe that the public would respond to such a thing, is troubling to me.

I’m not saying that Lopez shouldn’t be commended for denying greed, but I think the grand celebration surrounding it suggests more about our pessimistic, jaded society than it does about celebrating selflessness.  If not holding a ball for ransom is now tantamount to giving a kidney to a dying friend, we are in more trouble than I thought. 

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