Five days from now, America will be celebrating what has become the second-most popular holiday in our pantheon: Black Friday, the day American celebrate Capitalism by complaining about the effects of Capitalism.
Black Friday, which has nearly surpassed Thanksgiving already, and soon will, is perhaps the most American of holidays. It is more American than Independence Day; lots of independent countries celebrate their independence, even Burma, which doesn't, technically, exist anymore. (Burmese Independence Day is January 4, in case you were wondering.) It's more American than Memorial Day or Christmas or Easter -- those holidays, too, are celebrated in other countries, to greater or lesser degrees. (And sometimes on the wrong day, as they do in Russia.)
But only Americans celebrate Black Friday, that day that we get out there and shop shop shop, shopping to begin our holiday celebration, shopping to save our country's economy in past years, but mostly just shopping. Stores open earlier than ever, people get more excited than ever, there are crowds and yelling and parking lot kerfuffles and Santa Claus. It's like Beatlemania, only more American.
There are only two ways that Black Friday could be more American:
1. There could be a television special about it, preferably starring a comic strip character. Like Nancy. She's never had a TV special, has she?,
2. Have sports involved.
Adding sports to holidays is a growing trend in America, too. In the same way that we're slowly turning every holiday into a shopping opportunity (or, shoportunity)(TM Thinking The Lions 2009), we're slowly adding sports to the mix. It began with the longstanding tradition of having two crummy football games aired on Thanksgiving -- Detroit and Dallas annually square off in football games that are cared about, really, only by fans in Detroit and Dallas, and fans in Detroit probably don't care so much anymore, now that their city is in worse shape than New Orleans was after Hurricane Katrina -- so much worse that Detroit is used as the location for Katrina-themed movies.
But then the NFL Network added a third game on Thanksgiving night (this year it's the Giants at My Kyle Orton's Denver Broncos. That's the game, not, as this site says, the Colts-Falcons.). And there's a college game that day, USC at Arizona. Even golf is getting into the action, with the "Omega Mission Hills World Cup" of Golf tournament teeing up at 12:30 a.m. ET (yes, that time is right)
Christmas continues the tradition: The NFL will play a special Friday game on December 25; there may be some religious significance to the choice of teams set to square off that day, the Chargers and the Titans, but I'll leave that to wiser minds. College football plays tons of games on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. The NBA plays five games on Christmas Day. (NASCAR, the WNBA, and the LPGA don't schedule anything on holidays, because (a) their seasons have already ended, and (b) they are not, technically, sports.)
But while sporting events and the holidays are a recent trend, sporting gifts and the holidays are anything but; sporting gifts at the holidays go back as far as humanity goes back. I'm pretty sure that Cro Magnon man, around the time he was forcing Neanderthals to hole up in caves in Spain before finally wiping them off the planet, was also giving sporting-themed Christmas gifts, little Christmas ornaments made out of antelope bone and shaped like their favorite sporting teams (The Pangaea Dinosaur Killers vs. The Rodinian Lungfish was a great rivalry back then.)
And as long as there have been gifts, and sports, and people who like sports, and people who give gifts, there have been really crummy sport-related gifts. Gifts so terrible that they should not have been invented, let alone given. Gifts so lame that they reflect badly on the giver, the creator, and humanity in general.
That's why, each year, I make it my mission around the holiday season to do what I do best, which is: tell other people what to do, or not to do, in this case. I do that by giving you my
Annual Nonsportsmanlike Conduct! Nongift! Nonguide!:
Your guide to what NOT to give the Sports Lover in your life!
Your guide to what NOT to give the Sports Lover in your life!
(You can tell it's a serious endeavor by the number of exclamation points. Like Kate Gosselin, I know that some things are best! expressed! with exclamation points!!)
The Annual Nonsportsmanlike Conduct! Nongift! Nonguide! (or ANCNN, if you like acronyms, and who doesn't like a good acronym?) (Aside from the Acronym Sense Society, or A.S.S., "an organization created to oppose the widespread overuse of acronyms." They don't like a good acronym, or any acronyms.) The ANCNN exists to help you, the sensitive and caring gift buyer with a sports-loving person or persons in your life, decide what not to get.
I don't just focus on the negatives, though.
I also offer positive suggestions, which are these: Get them a hat, or shirt, or jersey of their favorite team or player. That's all. A hat, a jersey, a shirt, a sweatshirt of the team or player they love. They'll like it, it's not expensive, it can be used in almost any context, and it's practical.
That's the positive advice. Here's the negative advice, in the form of the following gifts, which are the top worst sport-related gifts this year. Remember, there are lots -- lots -- of terrible sports related gifts out there. These are just...
... what's the opposite of creme de la creme? Whatever it is, these are that. They are the noncreme de la noncreme of sports-related gifts. So do not give these to the sports lover in your life.
"Special Subjects Instructional Coaching Videos."
The Product: The "Coaching Special Subjects" DVDs from Howtosports.com.
Their Pitch: Imagine having your son or daughter taught the proper Special Subjects skills, mechanics, techniques and related drills by world-class coaches. All Sports Coaching Clinics' special, hands-on, how-to, video series offers instructional videos on every position and valuable hands-on instruction for players of all levels.
The Problem: It's natural to want to help your son or daughter get better at sports, but the "special subjects" videos in the Coaching series from How To Sports are not the way to do it. The titles in the "Special Subjects" range from "Drugs, Cults, Gangs and the Adolescent," a nearly-two-hour DVD with instruction by "Carlos Davis, Director of Psychology Timberlawn Hospital," to my personal favorite, a DVD on how to really make it big in the world of sports gambling.
To show you the high quality you can expect from the "Special Subjects" Series, I'm going to set out the description for that last one, verbatim:
Professional Odds Maker SS 92303 Instruction by: Danny Sheriday, NFL Analyst Gambling and it's affect on high school, cllege and professional sports VHS Length: 58:44
Note the attention to detail as expressed in the misuse of both "it's" and "affect," as well as the misspelling of "college." Besides those, how can that DVD go wrong instructing your little Johnny or Johnette in the fine arts of bookmaking?
Oh, and there's no "Danny Sheriday," NFL Analyst. The NFL Analyst is Danny Sheridan. So I don't know who is supposed to be teaching gambling.
"The Fling Sock."
The Product: The Fling Sock. (Also available in small, as the "Saturnian Mini Fling Sock.")
Their Pitch: Fling Sock comes with a 10-point sales pitch from "FunAttic.com," which also explains the "Anatomy of a Fling Sock," including that the bag end is "Double bagged and filled with non toxic polyethylene pellets(the same material used for sandwich bags)" [I don't get that latter point; is the idea that it's safe, or a warning that I could be accidentally smothered by the product?] The highlights of the Top 10 reasons to buy a Fling Sock include:
"Anyone, and we mean anyone can throw a FlingSock." Then again, anyone can throw anything, so that's not really a selling point with me. I saw, yesterday, Mr F throw a laundry basket.
"Enduring play value. The charm doesn’t wear off. After a year it will still be your favorite toy." (Hopefully, replacing the half-a-Rudolph Mr F currently likes to play with.)
"The FlingSock is the most significant addition to the world of “catch” games since the Frisbee." Now, that is a claim I take issue with: the most significant addition to the world of "catch" games (why the quotes?) since the Frisbee was the Toobee, the Amazing Flying Can.
The most significant subtraction from the world of "catch" games? Jarts.
We once, as kids, invented a game called "Dart Fights."
Regulations are wrecking childhoods.
Regulations are wrecking childhoods.
The Problem: It's a sock with a bean bag in it. That's all. Forget the highly-technical pitch aimed at the aeronautic engineer inside you ("the extra leverage from the tail gives a greater impetus to the fling sock so that it may fly much farther than an average bean bag would"), it's a bean bag in a sock. That's what you're giving your kid.
More problematic, still, is the fact that I'd bet that within 10 minutes of opening the Fling Sock, it'll be used for whacking a sibling or pet, Full-Metal-Jacket style:
Now, that's holiday fun!
But, worst of all, the Fling Sock apparently is intended for people so friendless and hopeless that it requires a five-page manual to suggest games and uses for the Fling Sock. Available for free online, the helpful instructions suggest you have a "facilitator" to get people lined up the appropriate distance apart, but from that slow start moves up, by page 3, to suggesting that people catch the Fling Sock with their feet:
If you could do that, you wouldn't be using a Fling Sock at the Christmas Day Party For Losers, you'd be playing for Ireland's World Cup Soccer Team. (If you can use your feet, you would not be playing for France, a country that doesn't bother following the only rule separating soccer from real sports.)
Skateboard Christmas Tree Ornament:
The Product: The "Red Flames Personalized Skateboard Ornament."
Their Pitch: Even the makers of the ornament don't really believe in this one; they say it's "One of the best designed skateboard ornaments we've seen." Not the best, or anything like that -- but it's one of the best. So, you know, you could do worse.
But the hard sell doesn't end there. The people at Russell Rhodes are like David Mamet characters, only for Christmas instead of elitist storylines, as they go on to push this little trinket on you by hitting all the right emotional chords:
"includes our holiday cord for convenient hanging." Got that? Not just a cord, but the Russell Rhodes holiday cord.
Still not sold? How about this:
"To complete the presentation, the skateboard ornament arrives nestled within our exclusive black velvet drawstring bag, ready to make a great baby shower gift."
A baby shower gift! This present isn't just for Christmas, but for any time. You could give it to an expectant Mom in, say, July, and in doing that, send the message "I couldn't think of anything you would really want, and also I think you're kid is going to grow up to be just like those dirtballs down the street who are always messing around in the Walgreen's parking lot."
The Problem: I've always disliked "Christmas ornaments" as "Christmas presents." (I also always get my mom a Christmas ornament, so I'm being extremely hypocritical here.) The reason I dislike them is that by the time you open the gift, the holiday it was intended for is over, more or less. So you open the ornament-gift, and then what? Hang it on your tree for the two or three days that the tree will be up serving as a reminder that the holiday season is over, that you're behind on the work you've been putting off for two weeks because of holiday spirit, and that the cat is choking on tinsel?
But more importantly, who is this ornament for? A mom or dad whose son or daughter is a skateboarder? The only mom I can think of who was proud of their young one skateboarding was Linda Hogan.
I'll bet even Tony Hawk's mom wishes he'd studied a little more in school and pulled his pants up with a belt now and then. Giving this ornament to a parent is just a not-so-subtle way of saying My kid will never be allowed to date yours.
But are you going to give it to the kid him- or herself? That's even worse. If you know the kid likes skateboarding, why not give something he or she can use to skateboard, like a helmet, or something even more useful, like counseling so that he or she doesn't waste his or her life? Giving a skateboard-loving kid this ornament says "I care enough to know something about you, but not enough to use that knowledge for any good."
Unwanted or Outdated Fatheads:
The Product: The "Elton Brand LA Clippers Fathead," The "Jay Cutler Broncos Fathead," the "Roger Staubach Fathead," and "The Yankee Stadium Logo Fathead."
Their Pitch: These are all available on clearance at Fathead.com, but that doesn't stop Fathead from putting a unique twist on the seldom-purchased end of their selection. They note major accomplishments that Roger Staubach had ("Superbown VI MVP, 6 Time Pro Bowler, Heisman Trophy Winner, Hall of Famer") and... um... that's it. The rest of these just get notations like the one for Cutler: (" Born April 29, 1983 Santa Claus, IN")
Which I didn't know: Jay Cutler was born in Santa Claus, Indiana. Very Christmas-y!
The Problem: Christmas-y, but still a terrible gift. Who wants the Jay Cutler Broncos Fathead? I'm pretty sure, given how bad he's playing, that nobody wants the Jay Cutler Fathead, period -- or Jay Cutler quarterbacking their team. But the Jay Cutler Broncos Fathead has even more limited appeal than Jay Cutler himself: It appeals to those Jay Cutler, or Broncos fans, who are living in the past... but not the good past, where the Broncos won some Superbowls. No, they're living in the mediocre past where Cutler was 17-20 as a starter for their mediocre team.
The other Fathead Remnants are just as bad, if not worse. Are you the instantly-nostalgic type? And do you love buildings more than the actual teams that play in them? Then you'll love the "old" Yankees-logo Fathead, celebrating a stadium that was put out of commission only a year ago.
Then there's Roger Staubach. Staubach played in the NFL for 10 years, from 1969 to 1979, starting from 1971 on. So people who could have watched Staubach play are now at least forty (like me), and maybe older than that. If you're a forty-year-old and you're still hanging sports decals on your wall, you either work for ESPN or you're a dork.
Sports wall hangings are for kids... but what kid wants a picture of Grandpa Staubach playing football? Why not give him a picture of Cliff Battles, while you're at it?
(You do know that Cliff Battles was the first NFL player ever to rush for 200 yards in a game, don't you? What'd you do in college, pay attention in class? Sucker.)
Cliff Battles. I think
he's the one holding the ball.
he's the one holding the ball.
The absolute worst of the remnant Fatheads has to be Elton Brand of the Los Angeles Clippers, though. You know what the claim to fame of the LA Clippers is? That they're so unpopular, their team hat was instantly a clue that a murder suspect was lying.
Seriously: Jesse Anderson murdered his wife in 1992, and tried to blame it on roving African-American children. His otherwise-perfect plan fell apart mostly because his "proof" was an LA Clippers hat supposedly worn by one of the criminals; it turned out that Anderson had bought the hat from a local youth a few days before. The Clippers' hat was memorable because nobody else had one.
I don't know who Elton Brand is, but I do know that the Clippers are synonymous with failure in basketball the way the Buffalo Bills are synonymous with.. well, failure in football. So I figure this kid:
Is thinking "Why do my parents hate me?"
While the rest of us are thinking "Why is his room mostly pink?"
Special note: If you're not the sportsy type, Fathead.com will let you still enjoy oversized wall decorations suited to your tastes, from categories like "generic sports," to Barack Obama to some sort of frightening Melting Mickey Mouse:
Jock Jam Music.
The Product: "ESPN Presents: Jock Jams Vol. 4 CD."
Their Pitch: This fourth volume alternates "then-current" songs with "more timeless (sports) arena-rockers."
[Note: "Timeless" is a superlative; things can't be kinda or more timeless.]
[Note, 2: Thanks for clarifying, copywriter, that it's "(sports) arena rockers" we're getting... on Jock Jams.]
The timeless tracks are Jump Around and Mueve La Cadera. On that last one: timeless is apparently not synonymous with popular or even known about by anyone outside of the tiny department at ESPN charged with putting together this CD.
Added selling point:
"The fact this is volume four of the JOCK JAMS series gives you some idea of how popular they've proven to be."
The Problem: Yes, the existence of volume four of JOCK JAMS could be proof of how popular the CDs are... or of how sadly deluded gift-givers are. Because "popular" is not the word I would apply to songs like "Hear the Organ Get Wicked" by Ray Castoldi. Or this one:
"23. Son of Jock Jam - Dick Vitale/Dan Patrick/Jock Jam All Stars (Mega mix)"
Here's what you'll get if you buy Volume 4:
That is, to be clear, a remix of several other remixed songs. But this one has Dick Vitale on it, so that's infinitely worse.
There's also an Austin Powers' "Yeah, Baby" track opening the album... but don't get your hopes up, because it's not the yeah baby you were hoping for. Instead, it's Austin saying "It's my happening baby, and it freaks me out."
If you've already bought the sports lover on your list Jock Jams Volume 4, well, shame on you -- but it's not too late to refuse to buy Jock Jams Volume 5, featuring the first-ever collaboration between Temperer, Mya, and Van Earl Wright. Strangely, I could not find a video for that song anywhere on Youtube. So I'll send you on your way with a combination of the two greatest cultural expressions available in America today: Hannah Montana, and the original Jock Jams Megamix:
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