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Wednesday, June 25
 
Naming rights for players could be next

By Adrian Wojnarowski
Special to ESPN.com

Bears football presented by Bank One. I wrote it once, but never again. As these unholy alliances go, no one but the public address announcer and the team's radio man has to utter these ridiculous words. Nevertheless, the Bears will overrun their faithful's sensibilities with ads and signs and pulsating propaganda. It will be relentless, repulsive and, as the Chicago Tribune reports, worth $30 million to the franchise.

The city of Chicago wouldn't let the Bears sell naming rights to the new football stadium. The savvy politician, Mayor Richard Daly, wouldn't let Soldier Field get sold out under his watch. So, one of the NFL's original franchises did something else: It peddled its name. Suddenly, Da Bears are Da Bankers.

Let them do it. Let them all do it. We don't have to use these names. Not you, not me. No one. If some bank thinks this is worth a $30 million investment, whatever. They'll just take $3.50 every time I want to take $10 out of an ATM, anyway.

Who's next? Yankees baseball presented by Chase?

Red Sox baseball presented by Mrs. Paul's?

Cowboys football presented by Hooters?

Why stop there? This money-grab started with stadium rights. Now, they're selling the names of teams. Rest assured, the sneaker companies are thinking long and hard. They're huddling. They're plotting. When it comes to selling out, to corrupting our institutions, the sneaker companies are always cutting to the front of the line.

Already, LeBron James confesses that Nike owns 50 percent of his loyalty. Actually, 100 percent until the Cavaliers draft him. Only, then he'll make his basketball team an equal partner with his shoe company. After all, they gave him a $90 million contract.

Now, LeBron is a great name. A superstar's name. Yet, what would James be worth if he changed his name? Nike James. One hundred and ninety million dollars? Every night on the sports highlights show, every morning in the papers: Nike James. Can you just hear the live play-by-play, Nike James drives to the basket ... passes out to Nike James ... back to Nike James ... Nike James shoots a 25 footer

No one has to lurch toward the TV to see the swoosh on his sneakers. No one has to stay with the timeout breaks to watch his commercials. Not anymore. It would be All Nike, All King James, all the time.

Maybe $290 million.

Who knows?

What would high school basketball prodigy Sebastian Telfair mean to a fledgling sneaker power if he turned pro and changed his name to And1 Telfair? And if he did, we have to call him it, right? People resisted, but Cassius eventually became Muhammad. Lew became Kareem. Sure, sure: Those were inspired for religious reasons. Still, the sneaker companies are the religion of today's superstar athletes. We can ignore the Bears presented by SomeBank, but And1 Telfair?

Eventually, they would wear us down with that one. We'd have to call him it.

You don't think Stefano Capriati wouldn't have sold his daughter's naming rights when she was 13 years old and doing those ads for Oil of Olay? Remember that? The kid hadn't reached puberty -- never mind menopause -- and she was selling old ladies on losing wrinkles. She could've been Guess Capriati. Or Pepsi Capriati. Whatever.

Well, this is just the beginning. Stadium names aren't just for sale, but teams too. It gets harder and harder to work up indignation on these things. This is just sports now. Just business. All these cookie cutter stadiums, all these corporate names. It's a blur. One of these days, another sports treasure will sell out. It will be the naming rights to Dodger Stadium. Or the Red Sox. We'll shake our fists. We'll say it's gone too far. We'll refuse to even say those sinister corporate names splashed over all the stadiums, the names, the players.

And then, we'll just sigh, reach for the clicker and understand that's just sports now.

Just business.

Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj@aol.com.





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