Some say Kristi deserves gold in her pockets as well

ROGER SIMON

March 11, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

I know I should hate myself for this, but I am having a hard time feeling sorry for Kristi Yamaguchi.

Just in case you missed the Winter Olympics, Yamaguchi won the gold medal for the United States in women's figure skating.

And, if you like figure skating, she was terrific.

Recently, however, a number of stories have appeared in print and on network television claiming that because Yamaguchi is a Japanese-American, she won't get the big endorsements that turn athletes into multimillionaires.

And, if this were true, it would be a pretty awful example of American racism.

But I don't think it is true. Or at least the case has not been proven.

It is hard to overlook, for instance, that Yamaguchi already has endorsement deals with Evian water, Bausch & Lomb sunglasses, Campbell Soup, Kraft foods and Kellogg cereals.

Kellogg signed Yamaguchi before the Olympics and put her picture on Special K cereal boxes last fall. Now, Kellogg is putting her picture back on the boxes, this time with an Olympic medal around her neck.

This is racism? This is Japan-bashing?

To me, this sounds like a pretty good deal for a 20-year-old kid. A kid who has also gotten her picture on the covers of Newsweek and Sports Illustrated.

But, the critics say, where are the mega-endorsements? Where are the multimillion-dollar deals that Coke or Pepsi could provide?

Well, they might be coming. Or you might want to take a look at our economy and note that ad spending dropped by about $2.4 billion from 1990 to 1991.

Or you could consider that Americans just don't feel the same way about the Winter Olympics as they do about the Summer Olympics.

Besides which, we are going to have another Winter Olympics in just two years and Coke and Pepsi (as well as Yamaguchi) might want to see if she goes on to make an even bigger name for herself.

Yet an article in the Seattle Times says that while Yamaguchi will make some dough this year, it won't compare with "the $1 million-a-year deals given to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana or even the $500,000 that retired NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently got to plug a line of personal computers."

But let's get real. Kristi Yamaguchi is a swell skater, but she is no superstar. Not yet. Maybe not ever. And figure skating is not football or basketball. And never will be.

I have never really understood athlete endorsements, anyway. I could understand it if Yamaguchi was asked to endorse ice skates or short skirts or even liniment.

But why should I drink a Coke because she endorses it? Are soft drinks what make great athletes great? I doubt even Coke would claim that.

Much more sensible in terms of marketing is what Pepsi did recently. It announced that the first million people who went out and bought a few six-packs and mailed in a proof of purchase would get $10.

As soon as I read that, I drove like a fiend to the grocery store and then to the post office. And my $10 check arrived in the mail yesterday. Not a coupon. A check.

And I would like companies everywhere to note that I much prefer a sawbuck in my pocket to an endorsement by Kristi Yamaguchi, Bo Jackson or anybody else.

To her credit, Yamaguchi is not making a big deal of all these charges of racism, although I am sure she is under pressure to do so.

On CBS a few days ago, she said: "I really don't think [being of Japanese ancestry] should affect me too much at all because I am an American born right here in this country."

To racists, this would not matter. And I have no doubt that some Japan-bashing is due to racism. And, yes, Americans are mad at Japan right now.

Japan is beating us economically and we are not used to that. And some Japanese politicians have said nasty things about our workers.

But the vast majority of the people in this country don't hate the Japanese people and don't hate Asians.

And they don't want to bash Japan. They want to beat it fair and square by building and selling better products.

Kristi Yamaguchi is a great athlete with a fine future and, as of yet, there is no proof she is the victim of racism by American corporations.

So let's give ourselves a break for once and stop all this America-bashing.

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