The difference between sports and porn

By Jarrett Bellini | @JarrettBellini

Apparently This Matters: The Column

Las Vegas -- Dave goes to a sports memorabilia show. He pays $80 to walk through the door. Famous pro athletes are everywhere. And he even gets an autograph from the great Cal Ripken.

Dave says to Cal, “You’ve always been my favorite.”

There’s a slight hint of drool hanging from Dave’s lip. He’s a bit of a mouth breather. And now he’s standing face to face with baseball’s Iron Man.

Cal. Effing. Ripken.

They take a selfie. They shake hands. Dave says “thank you” and moves on across the room to look at a display of rare baseball cards, his trail of saliva marking a Hansel and Gretel path along the floor.

Cal turns his attention to the next person in line. Another mouth-breathing super fan.

Nobody thinks twice. The hours pass. Everything seems perfectly normal.

Now, let’s say that this sports memorabilia show is actually a porn convention. And instead of meeting Cal Ripken, Dave shares a polite moment with adult film star, Whitney Westgate, who, like Ripken, is accomplished in her own way.

Cal played 2,632 straight games. Whitney … well, Whitney’s done other stuff.

So, Dave walks up to her booth and Whitney signs a print. They take a selfie. He tells her she’s his favorite. And a small tributary of slobber falls from Dave’s chin, landing on the toe of his shoe.

Dave should probably see a doctor.

Whitney Westgate signs autographs.

Regardless of whether or not he seeks medical attention, after comparing these two scenarios, we’re left with questions about the first Dave at the sports show versus the second Dave at the porn convention.

Is there a difference? And can we judge one Dave over the other?

That is what I kept asking myself as I wandered around the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas while reporting from the AVN Awards and Adult Entertainment Expo.

I was there on assignment. You know, taking one for the team.

And it was on the final day of the expo that I started to think about the social acceptability of attending a porn expo as opposed to a sports memorabilia show.

Because, in many ways, they really are similar.

The first (and, perhaps, most obvious) thing I noticed at AVN was that the crowd was easily 90 percent male.

Just lots and lots of dudes.

Now, I’ve never been to a big sports memorabilia show, but, based on a general understanding of dude-life and our ability to prioritize sports over, say, bathing, I would venture to guess that the demographics are fairly similar.

Probably not quite as extreme as the porn convention, but somewhere in the same ballpark.

(Ballpark. Sports. See what I did there?)

But it’s true. Men like sports. And men like porno. Yet, strangely, not always at the same time.

“Whitney, that’s the foul ball pole. Stop it.”

The point is that AVN was heavily dominated by men. Men who were interested enough about porn to drop eighty bucks to meet their favorite stars in person. I even spoke with one guy who flew in from New Zealand.

That’s one kinky Kiwi.

The four horsemen of the porn apocalypse.

Of course, some of these super fans stood out more than others.

For instance, there was a group of four old guys, standing around looking all old, and comparing beauty shots they had taken of different girls with their semi-professional cameras. One man was sitting in a mobility scooter, his basket filled with signed headshots.

I admit I was instantly starting to judge them as “creepy old guys.” But then I forced myself to consider this very same group of men at a sports show, comparing athlete photos and trading cards.

In that scenario, we might even celebrate the old men as being cute.

“Adorable! Look how excited they are together. It’s like they’re kids again.”

At AVN, you could say the same thing. Though, with an unfortunate added emphasis on the word “excited.”

I saw these old guys from about twenty feet away, where I had positioned myself near the booth. I was waiting to talk with Ron Jeremy.

There, Tanya Tate, a British porn star from Liverpool, stood at a table that was adjacent to the empty one awaiting Ron Jeremy. Before the big crowds arrived we talked Premier League football. 

She's a massive Liverpool supporter. Other than that, Tanya seemed perfectly nice.

And one by one, fans of all ages would come up to her. She would sign and personalize a print from a towering stack of glossies, and then take a photo with each person who wanted one.

And Tanya would smile and engage in some light conversation.

"I love your breasts."

One man in particular struck me as being particularly awkward. He was older, and had a look that sort of screamed, “I’m 60 and still live in my mom’s basement.”

I’m judging and assuming. And I shouldn’t be. But I am.

He was exactly the guy I expected to see there.

Finally, the man says to Tanya, “I love your breasts.”

I was startled, but Tanya handled it like a pro. I think I heard her say, “Thank you. They’re new.”

To be fair, her breasts may have had their own time zone.

Still, it was a little creepy.

That said, there are probably many of these very same basement dwellers walking around at sports shows as well. After all, being a serious Jets fan can get in the way of dating and being social, what with all the time spent calling talk radio and painting your beer belly green in December.

But I still just couldn’t envision a solid “I love your breasts” comment comparison to sports. The closest I came up with was, “You’re such a great hitter. I love the way you swing a bat.”

In both instances the man is speaking to the star’s tools of the trade. In one case, the ability to hit homeruns. And, in the other, the ability to be seriously motorboated on camera.

You see, I was trying to be as open to this as possible – that this was just a fan admiring a professional. And for Tanya, this was business.

Tori Black signs photos that will eventually end up on ebay.

But the stars weren’t the only ones there to make a buck.

Later, another performer named Tori Black arrived at the booth. She set up right next to Tanya Tate. And at one point a middle-aged man came up to Tori with a handful of prints. These were different than the ones already in her stack, and she proceeded to sign them in rapid fire.

Bam. Bam. Bam.

No personalization. Just knocked them out.

And when Tori was done, the man handed over a large stack of bills. So, I asked her, “Is he just going to go sell those on ebay?”

“Oh yeah,” Tori replied. “That’s why he paid me.”

The same kind of thing absolutely happens at a sports show. Professional memorabilia dealers are there for the money.

Curious, I checked ebay. Signed Tori Black prints were starting at around $20. By comparison, low-end Cal Ripken signed photos were going for about $50.

No offense, Tori. You should’ve learned to hit a curveball.

Now, as someone who once bought a signed photo of Jerry Orbach off ebay (whiskey may have been involved) I can tell you from first hand experience I had no idea what to do with my new collectable of Detective Lennie Briscoe from “Law & Order.”

So, I framed the photo and put it up in the bathroom. As one does.

With a sports photo, I suppose you could mount it for your desk. Or maybe hang it in your man cave. Somehow, it just looks perfectly OK in settings like these.

But what do you do with a signed porno pic? You can’t put it in your office.

“Diane, you seem uncomfortable. Is it the temperature?”

“No, it’s the half-naked blonde trying to lick her elbow.”

You just can’t do it. And this is why there may be a difference between these two types of events.

A signed Whitney Westgate photo.

They're very similar. Quite simply, the demographics, products, and activities at a sports show are not altogether dissimilar to that of a porn convention.

Men. Professionals. Autographs. Handshakes. Selfies. Collectables.

But the fact that you can openly display and share your photos and autographs from one event, but not the other, suggests that, perhaps, not all things are equal.

It’s a matter of public versus private.

We watch and celebrate sports as families and friends and communities. I call my dad after every Arizona Cardinals game.

(And for years the conversation started with, “Those Goddamn Cardinals.”)

From a spectator level, sports are something to be shared. We celebrate and commiserate as friends and neighbors. We go to the stadium. We watch at the bars. And going to a sports memorabilia show is just an extension of that very public, communal experience.

Porn, on the other hand, is very private. People may talk about it occasionally amongst friends, or share in it as couples, but, generally speaking, the act of consuming porn is a solo experience.

After which you DO NOT CALL HOME.

So, in the end, a porn convention is taking a very private, intimate, and personal experience, and making it very public.

Maybe that’s why, despite all the similarities to a sports show, it still feels different.

It’s not that porn is bad or that sports are good. It’s that you can’t put porn collectables on your desk.

Seriously. Just ask Diane.


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