What is real? That is a question I hear all the time. "Jamie, I want a real helmet. Can you get me one?" My immediate thought is always, "why?" I never say this aloud because I understand the value of "the real" and from whence it came, but the world of breaking is dominated by opinion and unfortunately, not fact. So here is mine.
Helmets come in ultimately two different types, now before you shake your head, hear me out. The types are: Replica and Authentic, and the variations thereof. In all fairness, everything is based around this concept. For example, I was told by an FBI agent that specialized in sniffing out counterfeiting, the easiest way to determine a fake bill was to know the exact look, feel, etc., of a real one. This conversation made me write this entry because I think the replica helmet is too often subconsciously associated with a counterfeit, and that is just not the case when you think about what drives value in our beloved business.
The value of a helmet is not entirely in the physical helmet itself, but mostly the autograph on the helmet. This seems like a "no kidding" point I'm making, but is it? Would you rather have an Aaron Rodgers Speed Replica or a Lem Barney Proline? No offense to Mr. HOFer Barney, but you catch my drift. Yet I hear "prolines, prolines, prolines" so much that The Empire Guys shifted into that arena and still see about the same traffic as before. This is one of those things that makes you go "hmmm" (credit Arsenio Hall as I show my age). So, why the sudden demand for prolines and what is the effect on the hobby?
As I see it, collecting is like any other form of compulsion, or addiction if you will. Do I really need 40 pocket knives? Obviously not, but I keep buying them, and each time I up the ante to something a little nicer, a little more expensive. This feeds my inner knife hunger for a while, but I always get hungry again and need bigger, and in my mind, better meal. Take my example and apply it to helmets. At first replicas were great, then someone convinced you that speed replicas were cooler, if not better. Then you won a proline and the speed replica lost its luster. Before long everything on your shelf will have to be a hydro or you will fill incomplete. Therein lies the illusion, the lie, the very thing that makes me forget collecting for a while and ruins the fun for me.
THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!
I urge you to think back to when you got your first win in a break. You didn't care if it was a replica or not. All you saw was BARRY SANDERS, or whatever, and were exhilarated. Now, if it's not a Blaze (all replicas by the way) or Ice, or Chrome, or a Proline, you're disappointed, disinterested, and worst of all, indifferent.
Indifference kills the soul of anything. Loving something, or even hating it, shows passion, and has hope behind it. Being indifferent is as cold as death. Too philosophical? Go read the funny papers (quote from my grandmother). Jokes aside, this is serious and can be the demise of our hobby.
I've found myself indulging in this same way of thinking, so this is not my sermon, it's a letter to myself. I too have been a little too "bougie" (I'm not that old) with the replica vs. proline debate, and I'm shutting that part of my thinking down. I want this hobby to grow, I want our children to do more than play video games and sit on the couch. Collecting requires a dedication and supports something tangible, something inheritable, and has real value.
So, am I saying, "don't get prolines, they're not worth it?" No. I'm saying that turning your nose up at a replica or speed replica is bad for the survival of our hobby. The continuing growth of anything is dependent on new life, and that means new collectors, the next generation of the interested. How many remember when baseball cards were king without the relics and autos, and other enticements? I lived for a Mark McGwire rookie USA card when I was in middle school. Then the industry was dead on the vine for nearly 20 years. The market flooded with all kinds of new product, supply was high, demand was low, and then the baseball strike killed everything. I agree my example is not quite the same thing as shunning a replica helmet, but we already have a perfect storm brewing in a similar way. NFL ratings are down. Lawsuits are mounting for former players and their injuries. We are on the precipice of a 1990s baseball phenomenon and cannot afford more negativity, i.e., "that's a rep, it sucks."
Again. THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!
Don't shut people out or down because you've hardened your heart to the replica, the staple of our hobby. Remember not everyone may be able to afford a proline break spot. Be encouraging, remember where you started, and support the newbies. Without an entryway for ALL to enjoy the wonder of collecting, the hobby is dead, and your proline will just be a lid on a shelf.