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|| News Item: Posted 2006-01-25

On The Road: Ritz-Carltons and Paparazzi
By Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Think classy, you'll be classy.
When Bert approached me last month about occupying a (somewhat) regular space in the newsletter, his idea was for me to write something travel-related. But, he added, "you can write anything you want." He probably regrets that now, because recent message board threads debating what is or isn't proper attire for us photojournalists really touched a nerve. So I'm going to take him up on both.

To make good on the travel-advice promise, here's this month's first bit of it: Stay at Ritz-Carltons whenever you can.

The second bit of it: When it comes to airlines or hotel chains, pick a loyalty program, stick with it until you hit the uppermost level every year, and amass all the points you can. Which leads me to bit of travel advice number three: Marriott points can be redeemed for stays at Ritz-Carltons. It's a fantastic, if relatively obscure, element of the Marriott Rewards program. And I highly encourage you to take advantage of it. Think about it: 150,000 points gets you three nights at, among other places, the Ritz-Carlton Central Park, which is where I found myself last November, in New York City to show the portfolio around and pitch a couple of projects.

What I didn't count on was being in town at the same time as the Country Music Awards, which bears mentioning because one or two of the CMA honorees were staying at my hotel. And that meant that I had the opportunity to experience something I hadn't ever before: every morning as I walked out the front doors to get my Starbucks fix, I was forced to run a (fortuitously) roped-off gauntlet of the filthiest, most disheveled, unkempt, unwashed, and, more to the point, blissfully unconcerned bunch of people I had ever seen standing on a New York City sidewalk.

And they all had cameras. Behold, the paparazzi.

And you were wondering how I was going to get from Marriott Points to ill-dressed photographers?

Seriously --- what a bunch of freaking slobs. The contrast was startling---a spotless, decadent hotel with liveried doormen and well-dressed guests, but with a front entrance that gave way to a gaggle of camera-toting swine, seemingly fresh from the trough. If Mr. Blackwell had a "worst-dressed" list devoted exclusively to journalists, these clowns would have been hands-down winners. Ripped t-shirts. Sweat pants that had apparently been sweated into for weeks on end. Hair that hadn't seen a showerhead in days. I was utterly embarrassed to even think that my profession bore even a remote relationship with theirs.

Couple that experience with a recent thread over on the message board where a (very) few people are attempting to defend (or at least excuse away) the wearing of shorts and t-shirts when covering things like funerals. To think that we wonder why the rest of us are held in such low regard by the general public.

But let me go a step further, and apply this specifically to the sports photography part of our profession. There's a dangerous temptation to presume that since we're covering something so pedestrian as an athletic contest, there's no need to be concerned with appearances. Sure, we need to dress for comfort, and we need to dress practically; I don't begrudge anyone for wearing short sleeves and shorts to cover a golf tournament in the middle of the desert, or in the middle of August. But is it too much to ask for a shirt with some semblance of a collar? Or a pair of shorts that have seen an iron sometime in the past two weeks? Over the past few years it's fair to say that we, as a group, have become increasingly marginalized among those who control access, positions, etc. at our events. Has anyone ever stopped to think that it's perhaps because, in general, we present ourselves in a less-than-professional light to sports information directors, media relations officials, and the like?

Maybe it's time to start thinking about that a little more. Perhaps a New Year's resolution is in order?

Okay, so maybe I'm overreacting. I get shit all the time from my wife because I'm an avowed and admitted clothes horse, and from friends and colleagues because I do silly things like wear a jacket when I fly and carry a travel steamer in my suitcase (and both of those are certainly fodder for another travel-related column down the road). I'm not saying that we all need to go running to our favorite tailor and get fitted for a bespoke suit. I'm not saying we should all work in jackets or ties. But we can't have our sartorial cake and eat it, too.

To those who see nothing wrong with dressing however they wish, yet can't understand how or why most people outside the profession see us as they do, it's this simple: If you want to be treated like a professional, you need to begin by looking like one. If Rich Clarkson can shoot the Final Four in a pair of pressed slacks and a sport coat, y'all can slip your butts into a pair of Dockers and tuck in that (collared) shirt to go cover a funeral or the mayor's press conference. You can iron that shirt before you wear it to the football game. This isn't rocket science, and I don't want to start a high-minded, philosophical fashion debate on the the level of wearing brown shoes with a blue suit (although, in case you're wondering, I say "no." But that's just me.) It's simply a matter of common decency and common sense--dressing in a way that shows we have respect not only for our subjects, but for ourselves and for what we do.

(Austin-based freelancer Darren Carroll is a regular contributor to Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest, and Golf World magazines, as well as a healthy contributor to the retail clothing sector of the economy.)

Related Links:
Carroll's member page

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