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Is the selfie the new autograph?

Every time a fan pulls out a phone and asks Michael McKenry to pose for a selfie, it makes him laugh.

It reminds the Rockies catcher of "The Goonies," where one of the young characters created a device that holds the camera out in front of him.

"When you think about it, he's the one who invented the selfie stick," McKenry said of the kid in the 1985 film. "And it took all this time for technology to catch up."

Technology has caught up, all right. Roughly 100 million selfies are taken daily according to a study from Google, those making up part of the nearly 900 billion photos snapped in a year according to Agence France-Presse. The Internet is filled with surveys that tell what your selfie habits reveal about your personality, Oxford Dictionaries named selfie the Word of the Year in 2013 and if there was any doubt selfies had hit the mainstream, that was erased when host Ellen DeGeneres gathered 12 actors for a selfie at the 2014 Oscars and the shot has been shared 3.3 million times on Twitter.

It's no surprise that athletes and celebrities are being asked to be in selfies (and regular photos with fans) with a frequency that has some of them questioning if it will replace the autograph in the keepsake of fan encounters.
"Absolutely, the selfie has replaced the autograph," Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said. "An autograph is overrated. Everybody wants the picture. Now, with cell phones, it's so much easier than it was in the past. A picture can leave a bigger memory than an autograph. You can show whoever you want that you were right next to the players."

Gonzalez said fans "have the craziest ideas" of how to set up the selfie, though most of the variation consists only of tweaking the camera angle and facial expressions. He said he's happy to do it and enjoys it more than writing his name.

That was also the opinion of ESPN reporter Sage Steele, a longtime Colorado Springs resident whose high-profile position has made her recognizable wherever she goes.

"It is strange to be asked to do it," Steele said. "I'm like, really, you want a picture with me? But it's a lot better than when they just want a picture of me. I'm always like, 'No, you get in the picture with me.'

"But I do think the selfie has replaced the autograph, and that's sad. But that's where we are."

Selfies may be the latest craze, but the autograph market hasn't taken a hit as a result, according to Todd Mueller of the Black Forest-based Todd Mueller Autographs that claims to be the world's largest dealer in autographs.

Mueller said selfies have no monetary value and haven't impacted the demand for signatures and memorabilia from celebrities.

He does see how they could create a problem for someone who depends on autograph shows to supplement their income. Mickey Mantle, for example, made just over $1 million in baseball salaries over his 18-year career, but he could command $200 per autograph at a show and sign 1,000 times over a weekend.

Mantle is an extreme example and he didn't live to see the selfie explosion, but many other athletes whose careers ended before the salary explosion of the 1980s and '90s might be tempted to try and find a way to monetize selfies.

Mueller warns against that, though he said actor Jamie Foxx is known to either sign or take a selfie with fans - but not both.

"I've never seen somebody sell a selfie, so it's only a true, die-hard fan that's asking for it," he said. "If you want to stay in favor with your fan base, I'd do it for free, because they can't sell it."

The problem Mueller has with selfies isn't that they threaten to encroach upon his industry, but that they are representative of a trend toward a digital way of life that is removing our paper trail - a trail that in some cases carries value.

Mueller bought Lucille Ball's estate, and in it were many contracts and personal checks returned from the banks. Now, many of those transactions are handled through debit cards, leaving nothing behind for the archives.

"A handwritten letter from Thomas Edison can be worth 2 or 3 grand," Mueller said. "Now what are we going to sell, a computer used to send emails by Britney Spears?

"Technology is erasing history in a lot of ways."

Rockies pitcher Christian Bergman, who said he receives many selfie requests, sees this desire for something tangible keeping autographs afloat.

One of the most beloved baseball movies of all time, "The Sandlot" contains a major plot line where a group of boys try to recover a ball signed by Babe Ruth that has been lost over a fence that contains a scary dog. It's hard to imagine the same emotion attached to a phone that contains a photo.
But maybe that's where things are headed.

"I don't think so," Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "I think the autograph is still way out in the lead, but selfies are something new. I'm not a huge fan of them, but you've got to treat the fans sometimes."

One of those fans is Derek Hanes of Falcon. A "collector and kid at heart," Hanes has been collecting autographs since childhood. When his daughter, Jordyn, was born in 2000 he began taking photos with more athletes.

By 2005 the photos had become the primary target. He now has a collection of photos with athletes that include most of the Denver Broncos, Russell Wilson, Dwight Howard, Larry Bird and many others.

"It's about the memory and experience of meeting guys that comes along with the pictures," Hanes said.

McKenry sees selfies as a fad, which by definition will pass.

"It's all fun," he said. "And the way technology moves, it took us a while to get here, but it's going to keep moving.

"It will be something else next year."

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We need more than names on a paper

Shelley Luedtke / Carlyle Observer
June 19, 2015 01:12 AM

            Contained within a photo album is a handful of autographs of professional athletes I have collected over the years; players from the LA Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, Edmonton Oilers and Saskatchewan Roughriders; collected at various games my family attended as I was growing up.
            Autograph collecting can be big business and there is certainly money to be made. The condition of the autograph, it's rarity, eye appeal and age all affect its value. A 1927 baseball in crisp, clean condition signed by Babe Ruth sold at auction in 2012 for $388, 375. A Muhammed Ali autograph goes for about $1, 425 although an earlier signing as Cassius Clay can fetch $17, 925. A Tiger Woods signed card once went for $16,600.
            Our culture has a fascination with athletes. We cheer them on, wear their jerseys, memorize their stats and get excited about opportunities to get a picture or obtain an autograph. We tend to elevate their status and put them in the realm of celebrity.
            Hosts of a radio sports show were discussing athletes who had run afoul of the law. On the list of examples was a hockey player who had been instrumental in last year's Stanley Cup championship. A man who identified himself as a father of three young boys called in complaining, "Some role model he turned out to be." He described the enjoyment he and his sons had experienced last year in cheering on the team and this player and now, a year later, he was having to explain to his sons what it meant to be arrested for possession.
            "Some role model he turned out to be"…the words of a frustrated father to be sure, but what is it we are looking for that we think would qualify an athlete to be a role model? The ability to stick handle a puck, or throw strikes, or drive cars, or race bikes has nothing to do with the character, integrity or discernment an individual displays. So why would we look to them to be role models for our children?
            I thoroughly enjoyed watching sports with my dad. He's been gone for many years but we had so much fun watching Stanley Cup playoffs, the World Series, football games and the Indy 500. In all the time we rooted for our teams not once did he ever say I should choose one of the players and make them my role model. Because why would he do that? Why do we do that? We can certainly appreciate their skill, applaud their proficiency and cheer on their accomplishments but why would we expect them to serve as role models for our children?
            Some certainly are. They recognize the opportunity they have to be more than an athlete; that they have a platform from which to address a wide constituency and set an example. They can draw attention to causes and provide leadership to a community. Many take this seriously. But to set them up as role models--when we know little about them apart from their athletic prowess--is to set them up for inevitable failure and their fans for disillusionment.
            Our role models should come from amongst the people whose impact can make an imprint on our lives by the investment they make in us. I had several favourite players amongst the rosters of professional organizations, but it was my dad who took the time to play catch in the backyard, coach my teams and teach me what mattered. He invested in my life and gave me an example to follow.
            Today 1070 babies will be born in Canada. They are coming into a world that they will need help understanding and navigating. They will need a home, foundation, guidance, discipline, education, support and love. The jerseys they may wear one day or the posters they put up on their wall won't provide them with this. They need family. They need fathers, grandfathers and father-figures.
            The autographs I keep in a closet don't represent cash value as a collector. Their value…their tremendous value to me…is carried in the moments I shared with my dad siding side by side cheering on our teams and celebrating victories.
            A role model is not the person who puts a signature on a piece of paper, but the one whose impact can be written on our lives. That's my outlook.
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