Be careful what you airbrush

L ast week our benevolent governor, Tom Wolf, relaxed the existing guidelines to permit fan attendance at indoor venues around the commonwealth, and it didn’t take long for controversy to rear its ugly head.

Some 2,800 fans assembled inside PPG Paints arena to witness Pittsburgh’s professional skaters battle their in-state rivals from Philadelphia.

The following day Penguin management felt it necessary and prudent to send out a brief thank-you note to their loyal supporters. which included a photograph of them cheering on their home team.

Problem was that someone on the Pens’ social media staff (a group I never even knew existed) decided to alter the wide-angle shot through liberal use of the airbrush to make it appear that all fans were wearing masks that completely covered their collectively flared nostrils.

The original Getty image revealed one woman wearing a red mask under her chin. However, the photo distributed by the Penguins showed the same woman with a mask magically airbrushed over her nose.

Upon hearing of such an egregious, unforgivable offense, my mind immediately thought of the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza goes to great lengths to have his boss’ head successfully airbrushed back into a desktop photo amongst other Kruger family members all enjoying a day at the beach.

The time-honored tradition of sports airbrushing rose to popularity in the early 1960s when the Topps baseball card company would go to print well before the trade deadline when major leaguers changed clubs late in or during the off season.

The card belonging to the player switching teams was oftentimes recognized by a ballcap modified to reflect some generic color (usually black), which gave card-collecting enthusiasts false hope that a team might actually consider going with monochrome, logo-less headwear for the upcoming campaign.

These particular cards that Topps issued were usually close-up shots, which only served to magnify the decidedly amateurish artistry — a savvy marketing ploy designed to minimize any pictorial evidence of players photographed while wearing their previous team’s uniform.

The company would further attempt to cover their tracks by making casual reference to the player changing organizations on the back side of the card.

Unfortunately, Topps did this so frequently it became a sadistic rite of passage to crack open a pack of cards actively searching for some oft-traded player say, a Dick Bosman or Joe Pepitone, in order to offer up scathing critique of the quality of the airbrush all the while chomping on cavity-causing, board-stiff pink cardboard blanched in cornstarch the company tried to pass off as chewing gum.

I’m told that several popular women’s magazines also employ various airbrush techniques to improve their model’s figures or eliminate unsightly scars, warts and blemishes.

I always wondered why Topps chose to limit its alterations to player’s ballcap as if there was some obscure statute of limitations on reducing the size of Don Mossi’s ears.

While I understand the Penguins’ interest in projecting the image of full compliance during a raging pandemic, I now openly question what their fans’ rights are once they pass through the turnstile.

Does their likeness become temporary property of the organization while they’re in the building, one the team can freely alter as they see fit?

If so, what’s to stop some rogue airbrusher from stenciling the logo of the team’s main sponsor onto every fan’s mask?

Bill Contz was a starting offensive tackle on Penn State’s first national championship football team in 1982 and went on to play six seasons in the NFL with New Orleans and Cleveland. Contz published a book in 2017, “When the Lions Roared: Joe Paterno and One of College Football’s Greatest Teams.” He resides in Pittsburgh.


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