CHARLOTTE — At SouthPark mall in Charlotte last week, fans paid $125 or more for an autograph from Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
If you read The Charlotte Observers editorial page, you know readers still are reacting, most negatively.
I dont think Newton went far enough. I think every time an athlete signs an autograph for an adult, the athlete should collect $125.
Autographs are for kids. Athletes would be much freer with their signatures if they didnt have to sign jerseys, pictures and programs for adults older than they are.
If adults had to pay, and kids did not, the autograph problem would be solved.
If you dont think theres a problem, then youve never stood in the infield at a NASCAR track or outside a stadium or arena.
Long ago, when Charles Barkley was with the Philadelphia 76ers, he was leaving the Charlotte Coliseum after a game against the Hornets. I happened to walk out at the same time. Barkley pointed to about 25 fans loudly waiting for a signature from him and his teammates.
They were looking for something free. Collections of people looking for free stuff rarely are orderly. I didnt see any kids. Maybe they were at home. More likely they had been trampled.
Would you walk into the middle of that group? Barkley asked.
No, I said.
He didnt, either.
My rule ends the chaos.
If youre 21 or older, and you request an autograph from Newton on the street, in the park or at the gas station, the grocery store, club or mall, you pay $125.
If you fail to say please and thanks, then youre charged an additional 50 percent, or $62.50 more, which drives the cost to $187.50.
If you see Newton at a restaurant, and you approach him as hes eating, you pay $250.
The $125 rule applies to all Panthers.
It applies to all Charlotte Bobcats no matter what the teams winning percentage is.
It applies to every driver at every level of NASCAR, including those who race trucks.
After we establish that it works in Charlotte, we take it nationally. Drew Brees, LeBron James, Derek Jeter and every Sutter brother and cousin in the NHL? That will be $125 per autograph, please.
The rule applies to golfers, tennis players and athletes who participate in Olympic sports in Olympic and non-Olympic years.
Theres an app that enables a telephone to make credit card transactions. Some athletes will buy one to capitalize on the unexpected windfall. But Id bring cash just in case.
Im serious about this.
We could name the rule: Adults pay, kids win.
Like Matchbox cars, coloring books and doing the wave at sporting events, there are activities we should outgrow.
Remember when you stopped idolizing athletes? This is the age you stop asking for their signatures.
I grew up idolizing athletes, and one of the athletes I idolized most was Muhammad Ali. Id met him a couple of times, always in a group. Then he came to Charlotte to raise money for Parkinsons disease.
Ali signed autographs for several of the guests, who undoubtedly paid to be there. A woman who helped set up the event asked if I wanted an autograph.
I admit I paused for a moment. This is Muhammad Ali were talking about.
I finally said thanks, but no.
She asked if Id like to ask Ali a question instead.
He bent down and I asked, What is the secret of life?
Ali put his mouth near my ear and said, Believe in God.
I wanted to ask, what else? But one question was enough.
Because I said no to the autograph, I received a memory that will last as long as I do.
And, had my rule been in place, I would have saved $125.