NEW HAVEN, CONN. — Labor Day approaches, and once again there's irony in the air. Around the first week of September:
Major League Baseball players (and their accountants) begin to focus on post-season playoff premiums.
NFL players (and their agents) begin to tally the turns of the turnstiles and compute their market values via TV tune-ins.
NBA and NHL players and owners try to avert contract discord.
Parents overpay for back-to-school T-shirts, caps, sweats, jackets, and athletic shoes that display team logos and player names.
I am a fan of the logo-less look. My game plan is based on fiscally passionate conservatism: Sweatshirt wearers of the world, unite - we have nothing to lose but their logos!
Every time we go out and about wearing a cap emblazoned with a team logo or a manufacturer's logo, we're providing free advertising. Do we get a commission or a repeat-wear rebate? Do we receive rental income or frequent-wearer dividends? No, we don't.
We're paying premiums to serve as display space, privileged promo positions, anatomical advertising appendages - bipedal billboards. In return for our willingness to wear a logoed item, we get to pay three times as much as we do for a generic equivalent!
Our kids have been well-coached. They want the stuff. My charge card and I have succumbed to logo lunacy more often than I'd care to tally.
"What's wrong with this T-shirt?" I ask my son. "It's made by the same manufacturer as those team Ts. It was probably made in the same T-shirt factory, of the same material, by the very same cutting machine and the very same sewing machine, on the very same day."
"Dad, you just don't get it," he says.
"Yes, I do," I protest. "The shirt with the team logo costs two to three times as much. The shirts with a player's name cost even more."
I tell my son that I want to make a deal with Major League Baseball, or the NFL, or the NBA: I'll wear their stuff if a player wears a jersey and a warm-up jacket emblazoned with my name and my logo.
"Dad, you're kidding. Right?"
"No, I'm not. I work as hard, get paid a whole lot less, and nobody's paying me to put my name on a new line of roller-ball pens, let alone a limited-edition fountain pen!"
"Dad, you're losing it."
My basic line of T-shirts would carry the simple forthright message: "Grammar Got You? Call Joe." There'd be a jersey embossed with the slogan "Joe's Jocular Jottings" and a homework warm-up jacket embroidered "Gerunds by Joe." And hey, I know my stuff isn't likely to muscle out the gear endorsed by Iverson, Jordan, Shaq, and Kobe. But surely those guys can deal with a little competition.
"Dad, you've lost it."
He's right. So, rather than try to rival the pros' designs and color schemes, I advocate a return to the sturdy logoless threads of yesteryear. I speak to my son of verities: the plain gray sweatshirt, hooded. I talk to him about character-building situations: wearing sneakers that haven't been endorsed by any member of any dream team. I wax inspirational: Make your imprint by what you do, not by wearing someone else's imprint.
I think about the baseball and football players of bygone eras. They worked real jobs in the off-season, so they could play their games the rest of the year. They could trade on their sports heroics when they traded in their team jerseys for one of the variety of "uniforms" worn in the work world.
Nowadays, pro players have lucrative careers - funded, in part, by the devotion of fans from distant tax brackets.
For the most part, my son has moved beyond team wear, but as I check his crumpled shirts and shorts and sweats, I come upon vestiges of our logo lunacy. The more he has to work for his spending money, the more often he makes a logo-less choice.
The more labor, the fewer logos.
Joseph H. Cooper was editorial counsel at The New Yorker from 1976 to 1994. He teaches writing at Quinnipiac University School of Law.