Traditionally, right around now, many people ask, "Why can't we have this kind of spirit all year long?" My answer to that is, "We do, and soon we'll have even more of it." I'm not talking about being nice to each other or giving gifts. I'm talking about that one magical, hyphenated word that describes so much of America: over-commercialization.
Ever year, decorations go up earlier and earlier, and there are more and more commercials using the holidays as a backdrop for trying to sell us things that we don't need. If corporate greed can intrude upon our holidays, is nothing, well, sacred?Apparently not. Sports, once a bastion of non-commercial amateurs, sold out long ago. Some of the stadiums that are used during the year include those with names like Bank Of America Stadium, Heinz Field, and Lucas Oil Stadium – not exactly names that you can imagine young people dreaming about playing in someday. What's next in this corporate intrusion into our lives? The answer is both simple and startling. Public schools are starting to have corporate sponsors.
Some financially strapped schools are currently trying to get corporate sponsorships to help raise money. Cities as different as Sheboygan, Wisconsin and Midland, Texas are willing to sell naming rights for their schools' athletic stadiums. Los Angeles is the latest – and the largest – school district to try to get some of this corporate cash. Recently, the Los Angeles school board voted unanimously to try to lure companies and sponsors. Many of those who voted for this did so reluctantly. However, schools need money so desperately that the Board didn't see any other way to rescue them from financial ruin. What were they going to do, lower teachers' salaries to below zero?
The Los Angeles program will have certain rules. They won't make any deals with companies that sell alcohol, tobacco, or firearms. They also pledged to avoid companies that promote foods that aren't good for kids. That doesn't leave too much to choose from.
Despite these rules, it will be okay for companies to visit the schools to pass out samples of "approved food products." Firefighters and astronauts used to honor schools by visiting them. Now these educational institutions are going to have people in the hallways hawking bottled water and pickles.
I assume that the products that will be plugged will be geared to exploit those of school age. So it's not all that difficult to imagine a high school baseball field plastered with billboards advertising things like Nike, Gatorade, or Clearasil. It probably won't be that long before school stadiums will be called things like MTV Field, Listerine Park, or Your Neighborhood Orthodontist Arena.
The team names are likely to change, too. Soon we might hear cheerleaders yelling something like, "Go iPhones! Beat the Tight Jeans!"
One of the frightening things about this is that once the floodgates are open, there'll be nothing to stop the flood. When schools get more and more desperate, watch for them to bend the rules about which companies they'll do business with. As a result, there'll be more and more inappropriate names on schools, playgrounds, and above their auditorium doors.
If you think I'm exaggerating about what could happen, maybe you don't remember that there used to be a big ballpark in Houston named Enron Field. If a stadium could have a name like that, I'm worried that it's just possible that someday soon we'll see the words above a classroom door that read, "Mrs. Murphy's Kindergarten Class – Brought To You By Viagra."