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Original Issue


Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, goes the old saw, but in sports these days it might be the most dangerous form of adulation. Last summer at a tennis tournament in the rustic hills of New Hampshire almost all of the 9,400 spectators were outfitted in the most expensive court clothes imaginable, from designer pastels to sartorially correct Savile Row whites. One had the wild notion that the whole audience might at any moment rise, step out on center court and have a go at Wojtek Fibak. Nearly all were better dressed than Eddie Dibbs, and the Australian players looked rumpled compared to the fans.

In the same fashion, galleries at golf and skiing events are usually more suitably attired to participate, rather than spectate, in their sports.

Suppose the fad spreads to other spectator sports. What if you walked into Boston Garden one night to find the entire Bruins crowd outfitted in hockey uniforms complete with skates? Aside from the 15,000 cases of multiple lacerations suffered when the fans rose—and fell—for the national anthem, the effect would be frightening. And imagine being a beer vendor at a Pittsburgh Steelers game when 60,000 thirsty fans descend on you during halftime, replete with helmets and shoulder pads.

Swimming meets could be distracting to contestants, judges and fans alike, if everyone showed up in clinging tank suits, and boxing could become the X-Rated topless event of the year.

Automobile race crowds are the end-all in this form of flattery. Everybody goes to the Indy 500 in nylon-shell racing jackets, it seems, all proudly bearing Goodyear or Firestone or Champion logos. Most of them affect wraparound dark glasses as well, perhaps hoping someone will mistake them for A. J. Foyt. Or at least his mechanic.

As for myself, I find I cannot emulate sports heroes by dressing like them at events. As a kid I wanted to be a doctor and wore a plastic stethoscope around the house. But I've given that up; wearing foam-injected ski boots to dinner with Franz Klammer seems clumsy, and besides mine don't go with my blue suit. I personally advocate that fans dress like what they are, rather than like the athletes. Doctors should come to sports events in white coats, painters in spattered coveralls. And writers like me should come as giant pencils. Then we'd know who was who and could tell the crowd without a program.