by JARRETT RUSNAK
The light glistening off his bling was almost too much. Chains. Rings. Studs. Earrings. Nose rings. I didn’t even want to speculate about other piercings that may have been present, but hidden.
Crap. I just did.
The fact of the truth is that Aaron Rabinovits, Communications Intern with the Toronto Argonauts, is a rather intimidating lad to behold. He’s even got one of those beards that’s razor thin, and you can tell that it takes longer for him to trim and maintain it, than it does for him to shower.
I’ve always felt you could peg a guy such as Aaron, as being rather unsavoury – to put it politely. Real men don’t spend more than 10 minutes in a bathroom unless they’ve first walked in with a magazine.
“His wardrobe choices are at the best times… well… questionable,” said Maxmillien Rosenberg, Digital Media Coordinator with the Argonauts. “I’m all for expressing oneself through clothing choices, but one does not simply wear the same black suit everyday… especially with the same pair of navy socks and the terrible purple watch that my girlfriend had in middle school.”
Fortunately, perception is clearly NOT the same thing as reality. I couldn’t have been more wrong about the impeccability of Aaron’s character. Stand up guy. I’d trust him with many things that are semi-important to me. He’s passionate about his work, and he makes everyone around him better. He’s a super duper nice guy as well.
Max put it thusly, “A hard worker he is, a fashionista he is not.”
“What the F*%k is a ‘onesie’?” Aaron asked, as the light shining through his beer cast a hue upon his bling. I had just sat down next to him, in a pub on King West, to broach the subject.
“A onesie,” I said, “you know, for babies to wear.”
“You want to stamp an Argos’ logo on one?”
“No!,” I said, “Don’t they have those for sale somewhere already?”
“The Roughriders have motor oil.”
“The f*^k you talking about?”
“Shot glasses. Underwear. Coffee cups. Can openers. Patio furniture. Pickup trucks. And baby onesies.” I paused for a moment to check in with him, but the blank look on Aaron’s face spoke volumes. I continued, speaking slower this time, so that the thickness of my Regina accent would not obscure my words. “The Roughriders are selling over $10 million dollars worth of merchandise every year. Anything that anyone would ever want to buy, can already be found somewhere in Saskatchewan with a Roughrider logo stamped to its side.”
He pondered that for a moment. “That’s just because you guys are weird.”
I don’t blame Aaron for not being able to relate to the Roughriders’ penchant for merchandise. As the ‘perceived’, 4th most popular team in the GTA, one doesn’t see a lot of Argos’ swag on the streets. I don’t recall seeing much of it in stores either, though Argos’ Marketing Coordinator, Jessica Taylor was able to point me (and you) in a direction.
“Argos fans can purchase Argos merchandise at the Jays Shop at Rogers Centre and CFLshop.ca. Other retailers such as Walmart, Target and various independent retailers carry some Argos merchandise.”
It’s a start methinks, but that’s still a long ways away from my experience with Rider swag in Regina. Perhaps there’s more to it than mere availability.
Beyond the hardcore fan base, wearing the double blue just doesn’t seem to mean as much to the people of Toronto, as green and white does to those sporting addresses from the ‘Land of the Living Skies’.
This wasn’t always so however. I remember a time when wearing a Roughrider logo around Regina prompted scorn and ridicule. In the 1990s, the province’s fortunes seemed to mirror the team’s, and nobody wanted to be reminded of hard times.
It took a fundamental push, a concerted effort, a shift in the cultural thinking – to change what Roughrider swag meant to the people of Saskatchewan. We came to see that we weren’t just showing Rider Pride when we bought a jersey, we were fundamentally ‘supporting’ OUR team. Every dollar we spent, went to our community owned team’s bottom line.
Once the Roughriders’ bottom line began to stabilize with contributions from merchandise sales, something else began to change in the cultural mindset of the Rider Nation – another shift in perception.
Roughrider merchandise became a symbol for something greater than one’s relationship to the team. It became a statement about one’s own character.
Saskatchewan is not the GTA. The community owned Roughriders are not the privately owned Argonauts. There are major challenges in Toronto, that the Roughriders will never have to deal with. Still, there is much the Argos could learn from the Roughriders in terms of merch.
As with Aaron Rabinovitz, the Argos are fighting a ‘perception’ problem. Double blue needs to transcend the team – to become a statement about who Torontonians are, and what they stand for – whether they attend games or not. Argo swag has to become a statement about character.
If only there were some major figure in the city somewhere who could go around getting himself photographed in an Argos’ sweatshirt.
Perhaps the photograph could go viral. Perhaps it could become so popular, it gets picked up as a story on major US networks – and every time someone in the media would mention the story, the Argos’ logo would be there, featured prominently, being associated with whatever the media types were talking about.
That is character! Maybe then, Torontonians would rush in and drape themselves in the double blue – wanting to be characters too – and the city would emerge as a vast double blue sea of Argo swag.
If only we could be so lucky.
Of course, we must all be careful for what we wish for.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the Los Angeles Raiders were the number two selling brand in the NFL. According to an article by Tim Goldman in the NY Times, it was for reasons only slightly related to sports.
“While sports analysts tend to credit the team’s personalities, victories and hard-bitten mystique for its sales, police officials in some cities believe that the image now attached to Raiders apparel stems as much from Los Angeles street gangs. The gangs, particularly the vast Crips alliance, developed a passion for Raiders caps several years ago, about the time they began to expand their drug-dealing and recruitment around the country.”
The perception of the Raiders’ brand moved dramatically from football paradise to gangland turf warfare, prompting schools across the nation to ban the team’s jackets and caps.
Wearing Raiders’ swag at the time was a clear statement about your character.
For any team, it should never be enough to simply strive for merchandise sales. A fan’s expression of support for a team through the purchase of swag is admirable, but certainly not the symbol it could be. Something incredibly powerful happens when those colours come to represent something about yourself personally.
I remember a playoff game a few years ago. The Roughriders were in Calgary. It was bitterly cold. Prairie cold, with a wind chill to match. Late in the game, Saskatchewan was driving the ball, and a play came under review. There was some question about the Riders losing possession.
Several long minutes passed while officials conferred. Calgary’s defence wasted no time retreating for the sidelines, where they huddled around propane heaters.
To a man, Saskatchewan’s offence remained on the field, bare arms to that cold bitter wind. That act was a statement about who they were, and what they believed in. It was a symbol that warmed the hearts of anyone who ever called Saskatchewan home.
We know bitter cold like an old friend. We know the harshness of nature. Our faith in what lies beyond our control is resolute. We fight hard against long odds and we win.
That’s what the green and white now means to the people of Saskatchewan.
The Roughriders not only retained possession on that drive, but they scored a touchdown and went on to play in the Grey Cup.
As for the Argos, perceived as the 4th most popular team in the 1st most cosmopolitan city in the world, what does the double blue mean? Who are the Argos really? Who are Torontonians?
Over the past 19 years, the Argonauts are the only professional team in the city to be crowned as such – and in that span, they’ve done it four times! They did it with superstars who, while extraordinary, remain ordinary – just like the rest of us. These are not millionaires with team assigned handlers, living and working beyond anything we could ever dream of.
Toronto is a city of immigrants, from across the country and around the world. The Argonauts are a team of faces, from places across the country, around the continent, and from within our own communities.
In the 18 months that I’ve lived in the T-dot, I’ve failed to see any single symbol that represents the city, as well as the Argonauts do. They are a team of the people. They’ve been around for almost as long as Canada has been a country.
That’s what the double blue needs to mean to Toronto. That’s what it can mean. How do we get there? I don’t know.
What I do know is, there’s a place on this boat for every culture, and every ethnicity. There’s a place for a prairie boy like me, and there’s certainly a place for someone as fashionably challenged as Aaron Rabinovits.