I’ve covered professional sports for years, on both sides of the rope, as a member of the media and as a videographer employed by a Major League baseball team. I’ve talked to fans all over the country as they wait in long lines at team hotels, at batting practices and at shoot-arounds trying to get a player’s attention to sign an autograph.
Make no mistake, this is an art form. I decided make the quick trip down to Spartanburg to talk with the masses who line the fencing at Carolina Panthers training camp and get their opinions on proper protocol in this effort.
Some of these answers are painfully obvious, some are downright funny, and some had me shaking my head saying, “Why didn’t I think of that as a kid?”
So let’s begin with the obvious:
DO: Arrive early and stay late. Practice session times vary, but I have attended four practices and each have been extremely well attended. There is no restriction on what time you get to the Wofford campus, so maybe hang in the car or take a walk around campus. After practice offers a much better chance to score autographs than pre-practice, but sometimes guys just want to get to the showers and start the healing process.
DO: Position yourself properly. There is a fenceline that runs from the changing area the players use to the field. This is the most common area, pre-practice, to post up and wait.
DO: Be prepared. Have whatever you want signed ready, be it a jersey, playing card, helmet, whatever. Players have limited time to sign before practice and they aren’t going to wait while you fumble around looking for a Sharpie.
I found that players respond to pleasant, respectful voices, so be polite. If you want Luke Kuechly to sign your jersey, make sure it’s a No. 59 jersey. Common sense, I know, but you’d be surprised at some of the things that go on in these scrums.
DO: Know players by name and number. Everyone knows Cam, Luke, TD. But do you know the third-string tight end fighting for a job.
You can get a program when you walk in. Treat it like a playbook. Read it, understand it, know the guy you’re yelling at is the right guy, otherwise you get a stare and a laugh.
Now let’s talk don’ts. These are always fun.
I asked the fans waiting to come up with three good ones each. Many couldn’t, because their get game was so tight. Others had some advice.
DON’T: Yell and scream. Don’t be that crazy person flipping out over the sight of Cam Newton. You’re only going to scare him off. This is true.
DON’T: Ask players to sign like 20 things. Only ask them to sign one object. You start pulling out stacks and stacks of football cards or five mini helmets and players are pretty hip to know these are going on ebay before they hit the showers.
DON’T: Be a hog. Others are waiting as well. Someone told me a fan tried to grab at a player. Oh man, horrible etiquette. Don’t grab at a guy or throw your jersey at a guy. You’re only going to look foolish, plus you just lost a perfectly good $100 jersey. Don’t be that person.
And finally, the cardinal sin on the fence line is …
DON’T: Ask a player to go get you another player’s autograph. Never. And I mean never. First of all, this is almost logistically impossible based on the setup, but I’ve seen it tried, and the results are nasty. Not only are you laughed at by your fellow fans, but you are immediately IDed as “that fan” by the players. You just ruined it for you and anybody standing within about a 10 foot radius.
If you follow these simple rules, you should have a great experience. After all, training camp is supposed to be about the fans. Maybe you can be like my guy Blake who came from Central Arkansas and ride home in style with car full of signed Carolina Panther gear.
Photos: Jonathan Lee