Articles and commentary from Bert Lehman, the editor of Sports Collectors Digest.

Industry will overcome Eli Manning game-used memorabilia allegations

By Bert Lehman

First it was Tom Brady’s missing Super Bowl jersey, and the investigation that followed. That search took investigators south of the border to Mexico, where the jersey was eventually found and returned.

As that story faded into a distant memory, now an alleged game-used memorabilia scheme involving Eli Manning has moved front and center. According to reports, Manning is being accused of passing off items as game-used when in reality they were never used in a game. Manning and the New York Giants vehemently deny the accusation.

As a collector of game-used memorabilia, the Manning situation hits close to home.
Even if Manning did nothing wrong, the accusation by itself has implications on the game-used sports memorabilia industry for athletes, dealers and collectors.  

Many star athletes of all sports sign exclusive game-used memorabilia contracts with memorabilia companies. These contracts stipulate that the game-used memorabilia is available only through that memorabilia company. No matter what the final outcome of the Manning case is, will the mere fact that Manning’s integrity is being questioned cause other athletes to shy away from getting involved with exclusive sports memorabilia deals?

With the money that star athletes make through their playing contracts, they really don’t need the money that an exclusive game-used memorabilia contract would provide. They may deem that it just isn’t worth the hassle, or the risk of having their credibility questioned.

Reputable companies that deal in game-used memorabilia stake their credibility on exclusive game-used memorabilia contracts with star athletes. With the final verdict in the Manning case still not known, a shadow has already been cast over game-used memorabilia on the market, not just Manning’s, but the game-used memorabilia of all athletes.

It’s no secret that there is fake game-used memorabilia out there. If you think there isn’t then you are being naïve. The reputable memorabilia companies do their best to guarantee authenticity of game-used items. Will memorabilia companies be forced to change procedures on how they procure game-used memorabilia?

And what about collectors of game-used memorabilia? What are they to do? After all, one of the reasons for buying game-used items from reputable memorabilia companies is to erase all doubt that the item might not be game-used.

In reality, though, the only way to know with 100 percent certainty that an item is game-used, is to see an athlete with your own eyes take a jersey, helmet or any other piece of the uniform, off and give it directly to you.

This doesn’t mean that if you don’t see it with your own eyes that everything else is fake. That’s not the case. This is where the Manning situation muddies the water because buying game-used items from reputable memorabilia companies with exclusive contracts with athletes is supposed to ensure the item is as close to 100 percent authentic as possible.  

Even if some doubt has been created, I predict game-used items will continue to be popular with collectors. And here’s why:

1. It’s the idea of owning something that your favorite athlete wore or used in an actual game that has collectors buying such items. The majority of us never had or will have the opportunity to play in a game at that level, but we can own something that we can touch, that was used at that level.

2. Game-used items are scarce. Game-used items can’t be manufactured in a factory. Yes, the item itself is, but the history of it being used, as well as the marks and blemishes left on it from game battle can’t be manufactured.

3. The history of the item. It is thrilling to finding a game-used item used in a game that had significance to that sport.

4. Game-used items have value. There are collectors in the hobby who don’t care about the value of their collectibles, but let’s be honest, when all is said and done, game-used memorabilia is worth more than memorabilia that wasn’t used in games.

Because of the above, the game-used memorabilia industry will overcome this, just like it has survived scandals in the past.

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