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Horn's Call Disconnects With Some Advertisers

Marketing experts say the New Orleans receiver hurt himself with his cell-phone celebration.

December 18, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Joe Horn might have become more recognizable by brandishing a cellular phone during a touchdown celebration Sunday, but, several marketing experts say, advertisers are not likely to put the New Orleans receiver on speed dial because of it.

"I personally think he has hurt himself in the marketing world," said Steve Rosner, a partner at 16W Marketing, which represents Howie Long and Phil Simms among other current and former NFL players. "His credibility has been tarnished. Most of the general public as well as the advertising world saw that as a premeditated gimmick that was somewhat disrespectful to the game itself."

Rosner's comments came a day after the league fined Horn $30,000 for his antics during a 45-7 victory over the New York Giants. Teammate Michael Lewis, who helped him retrieve the phone from the base of the pad wrapped around the goal post, was fined $5,000, which Horn has offered to pay.

Horn, who has a history of being fined for his behavior, said he merely intended to enliven what he called the "No Fun League" and entertain fans. Others, including Saint General Manager Mickey Loomis, considered it an inappropriate and selfish display that has no place in football at any level.

"The part that upset me is he knew he was going to get a penalty for it," Loomis said of Horn, who was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. "That hurts our team.... I don't think we should tolerate that. I don't have a lot of empathy for him."

Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Assn., said he disapproved of the celebration and that he thinks players who have a "me-me" attitude run the risk of backlash from the public.

"We have to be very careful of that because we depend so much on the support of fans," Upshaw said in a radio interview on "The James Brown Show."

Loomis confirmed that league officials initially wanted to suspend Horn for the last two games of the regular season but were dissuaded from doing so by Saint owner Tom Benson, whose team is trying to keep alive its flickering wild-card hopes. Horn has 76 receptions, more than twice as many as any teammate, and set a franchise record Sunday with four touchdown catches.

"I don't know about [the fairness of] a suspension," Loomis said. "In that case, what you're doing is penalizing our team for the actions of the individual. I don't know if it warranted that."

San Francisco receiver Terrell Owens touched off a debate about excessive celebrations last season when, after catching a touchdown pass at Seattle, he pulled a Sharpie pen from his sock, autographed the ball and handed it to his financial advisor sitting in a field-level box.

Although the makers of Sharpie pens did not give Owens an endorsement deal, they did donate $25,000 in his name to an Alzheimer's disease charity and donated supplies in his name to schools in San Francisco and Atlanta. They also based a commercial on his antics, showing a high school coach collecting Sharpies from the socks of his players, and ran a print ad of a Christmas stocking bearing Owens' name and stuffed with pens.

Rosner represented soccer player Brandi Chastain, who rocketed to fame in 1999 when she pulled off her shirt in celebration after her World Cup-winning goal, stripping down to her sports bra. Nike, maker of the bra, rushed into production the line it had hoped to introduce weeks later and booked Chastain for appearances around the country.

An exuberant Chastain wound up on the cover of Sports Illustrated and had four major national endorsement deals within six months. Rosner said fans could identify with the "realness" of her emotions and could tell that celebration was authentic, not calculated. "It's the exact opposite of what happened with Joe Horn," he said. "There was no realness to Joe Horn."

Horn retrieved the phone after his second touchdown and flipped it open without ever taking off his helmet. He later said he was trying to reach his mother and his children. The act led to his second unsportsmanlike-conduct fine this season and his seventh since he became a Saint in 2000.

"Would I take it back?" he asked after the game. "No, no. I knew exactly what I was doing.... The fans pay our salaries, not the league office that fines us $10,000 because we do stuff like this."

Scott Harris, president of Mustang Marketing in Westlake Village, said he expects to see more celebratory one-upmanship, especially if Horn is rewarded with an endorsement deal. "This is the last guy we'd want endorsing a cell phone," he said. "This is the last guy we want influencing our buying decisions. It's not a positive commentary on American society if this clown gets a dollar out of what he did."

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