Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Federer with the Rare Disappointment

It is hard for Roger Federer to disappoint me. For most of my adult life, Roger Federer has been one of the few constants in terms of sports fandom for me in a world where my partisanship generally shifts with the wind. What they don't tell you when you start covering sports is that actually getting to know the people you once idolized can make it significantly harder to view them objectively. Sometimes the players you once loved simply cannot be admired once you get the behind-the-scenes lowdown on their off-the-court persona. Spend too much time in a locker room (or worse) a media area and you might find out that the tv personality that entertained you or the player whose heroics you once cheered is actually a complete turd, with little redeeming value beyond their chosen sport.  It can be a sad realization.

But that has never happened to me with Federer. In fact, the few interactions with Roger Federer have made me only like him more. Along with my beloved Kentucky Wildcats, Roger Federer is the only athletic entity from which I have never wavered.  In the "Outer Courts" first ever tournament appearance at Indian Wells, we met Federer at lunch and after some nervousness, got up the courage to ask him if he would come on our Kentucky-based UK basketball post game show. Any rational human would have understood if he said "no I am busy" or "I don't know anything about UK basketball and don't know you two goobers so I will have to pass."  Instead, Federer just smiled at the absurdity of the request and agreed to come on for what were the most exciting 15 seconds in Kentucky since Rick Pitino decided to hit an Italian restaurant after hours.  He was in short, as perfect as I had hoped as his grace on the court was matched with his kindness and generosity off of it.

So with that as a backdrop, it pains me to say I simply cannot get behind this "Federer is Betterer" campaign that I see all over the US Open.  Look I get it. We all love puns. My favorite comic strip (if it is still indeed a comic strip) is "Frank and Ernest", a series that exists solely to make stupid punny jokes based on plays on words and the like (read some of the best on their website...I guarantee you laugh at least once). And I understand that because Federer's name ends in the odd "Ur" sound, it is hard to make it rhyme or do the kind of things that we like to do with our favorite stars. But to come up with "Federer is Betterer," is to not only throw out the laws of grammar but also create a cringe-inducing slogan that makes one look moderately illiterate if you wear it in public.

This idea traces back to a Wilson ad campaign that seems to start with the premise that as good as Federer is (he is "better" than everyone), there is still another level to reach (the "Betterer") and the new Wilson racket is hitting that level.  A series of "Betterer" commercials came out, the first of which is below:

The problem with this entire enterprise can be seen in this commercial. The comedy is corny (see they are smart and you can tell because they all have on dorky glasses!!!!) and even Roger seems to be mildly amused at the awfulness of it all. It's as if the ad campaign creators were late coming up with the final idea, someone heard a child say the word "Betterer" (not knowing it was not an actual word) and then they said, "THAT'S IT....HE IS BETTERER!!!" And the awfulness then came to fruition. However if all we had to worry about were these snippets, it would be fine. But Nike has now taken up the mantle of "Betterer" and is making the t-shirts you see at the top of this post. All over the US Open grounds I see these shirts for sale (although interestingly enough, not actually on any human beings) and every iteration of the phrase makes me cringe slightly more.

I don't begrudge Roger making money and I certainly am not against silly slogans that are plays on his name (you are talking to a man with an "Advantage Federer" and "Roger That" t-shirt).  But this is Roger Federer and some dignity must remain. This is a man who brought an unprecedented level of elegance and grace to the game and who it has been said, when seen in person can almost elevate the sports to a religious experience. His strokes are perfect...his footwork is perfect...even his hair is perfect. That person, an individual who seems to operate on a higher plain of style and panache than the rest of us simply can't walk around with people saying he is "Betterer."  It isn't just.

I am sorry had to be said.