By Pete Robbins
July 27, 2015
It all started with the Girl Scouts, but at least they offer up some delicious cookies.
It seems that in recent years it has become harder and harder to walk into a grocery store, a Wal-Mart or any other retailer without being bombarded with pleas for donations. Some of them are charitable, of course, but increasingly it has been school age kids asking me to subsidize their after-school activities in exchange for some good or service. It could be a Little League baseball team trying to get to Williamsport, an AAU basketball club headed to a summer tournament, or the school orchestra headed to a battle of the bands, they’re all represented and equally aggressive.
Typically, I’ve tried to support these groups when it was reasonable to do so. Lord knows I don’t need to ever eat another Krispy Kreme doughnut, but I’ve bought a box or two from earnest and hustling kids. I’ve even had my car washed when it didn’t really need it. As a general matter, I appreciate the fact that they’re seeing some correlation between effort and opportunity. I also appreciate the fact that if the local rapscallions are pursuing some useful skill, they may turn into useful adults. At the very least, if they’re off at a chess tournament in Peoria, then they’re probably not vandalizing my house.
Unfortunately, there has recently been a tipping point among these efforts. Rather than offering to wash my car or sell me a box of overpriced cookies, all too often these groups just stand outside the store with a bucket, approaching any and every customer with a request for cash in exchange for….nothing. There’s not even a pretense that they’re offering you something of value.
For years, I’ve occasionally ranted against the obsession with sponsorship at all levels of the bass fishing totem pole. Historically, at least, there has at least been a token effort to give something back to the sponsoring entity. “I’m adding value,” they say, parroting corporate buzz-speak. “I’m providing impressions,” they say, seemingly full of sound and fury, but ultimately signifying nothing. In most cases, though, it’s little more than gussied-up begging. Consistent with the kids’ sports teams, though, now there seems to be less and less of an acknowledgement that you have to give something back. Increasingly the standard model for what it means to be a tournament angler is to have your hands out, palms up, asking to get something for nothing. It doesn’t matter whether you made your first cast yesterday or you’re an established tour pro. You don’t even have to be an angler at all – of late we’ve seen tackle companies, media figures and larger organizations turn into beggars too.
At times it is absolutely shameless. We’ve seen crowdfunding campaigns and kickstarter efforts. The terms sound grandiose and weighty, but really it’s just asking for a handout.
“I’m worthy of support,” they seem to scream, “So fund me.” It doesn’t matter whether they want to fix up their 1976 Force Outboard to compete in a Wednesday night fruit jar campaign or qualify for the Elite Series, I find it equally distasteful. For many years numerous tour level pros had backers or patrons who paid their entry fees in exchange for a cut of their winnings. It seemed a little off to me, but at least it was a gamble.
At its best and purest, tournament bass fishing is an objective test of individual skill. You put your fish on the scale, they weigh what they weigh, and the standings fall out accordingly. From that ideal, we’ve all derived an impression that we are rugged individualists, charting our own course, masters of our own domain. Yet the reality is often quite different. The message today seems to be that you should put up a stake for my gain and expect to see it flutter away, with no expectation of anything in return for your effort. It’s the very opposite of what’s good about tournament fishing. I don’t know if this trend will eventually wash out, or if it’s a slippery slope to even worse things to come.