My Thoughts on The Eli Manning Game-Used Situation

By David G. Firestone

I like to make decisions based on facts and information rather than emotion. It’s why I won’t react to a story until many facts are in. In this instance, I’ve known about this for some time, but I wanted some more information. Well some information has come to light, and I now am going to discuss my feelings on this. It affects The Driver Suit Blog, and the racing memorabilia market.

Recently, Eli Manning has come under fire for fake game-used memorabilia. These items included items purchased through Steiner Sports. It seemed to me that something didn’t seem right. Brandon Steiner cares too much about his reputation to knowingly sell fake memorabilia. I also was wondering if the New York Giants would even consider selling fake game-used memorabilia, seeing as how collectors are as educated as ever, and love to research these items.

Then, emails between Eli and the Giants equipment manager Joe Skiba came to light. In this email, Eli asked Skiba for “2 helmets that can pass as game used. That is it. Eli.” Then 20 minutes later, Eli informs his marketing agent, Alan Zucker, “Should be able to get them for tomorrow.” What appears to have happened is that Skiba found two helmets, which were sold for over $4,000 each. These emails were discovered during a lawsuit against Manning, the New York Giants, Skiba, and Steiner Sports, among others.

It goes deeper than that. According to Kaja Whitehouse and Bruce Golding of The New York Post:

“On Thursday, plaintiffs’ lawyer Brian Brook said “it appears to be the case that someone at the Giants organization deleted” those emails, as well as another, previously disclosed 2008 exchange.

In that exchange, Skiba allegedly admitted to plaintiff Eric Inselberg that Manning had asked him to create “BS” versions of a game-used helmet and jersey because Manning “didn’t want to give up the real stuff.”

If this is true, that spells trouble not just for Eli, The Giants, and Steiner, but it could also spell trouble for a lot of the game-used memorabilia market. Supposedly, according to court papers, the Giants gave Michael Strahan a fake Super Bowl jersey. If I was a New York Giants game-used memorabilia collector, I would be very nervous right now.

I need to ask the obvious question: If the Giants are going to sell fake Eli Manning game used memorabilia, and give Michael Strahan a fake version of the jersey he wore in a Super Bowl, do you honestly think that they wouldn’t fake the less expensive game-used stuff? Again, collectors are smarter, and have better resources at their disposal than they ever have before. Lots of collectors rightfully do their own due diligence with items they buy. It’s getting harder and harder to sell fake game-used memorabilia in this day in age.

With the number of photos and videos of players on the Internet, it’s easier to look at a picture, compare it to the item in question, and match game wear. The NFL rules make it a little more difficult though. The NFL requires multiple uniforms and helmets ready for players per game, due to the very real possibility of them getting damaged during games. It makes sense that a player could wear multiple jerseys or helmets during a game. Emmitt Smith famously wore four different jerseys in four quarters when he beat Walter Payton’s rushing record. So players could wear multiple different items during a game, and all of those can be considered “game-worn.”

While many can think that this is only an issue with the Giants, I would say it might be a bit wider than that. Remember, NBC Sports discussed this issue last year. This is why the NFL should take a very close look at the MLB Hologram program. Major League Baseball figured out the solution in 2001. The program is designed strictly prevent fraudulent memorabilia, game used, autographed, stadium used, etc, from making it to the collector market. But the NFL has an advantage over MLB in this sense, in that they have a deal with PSA/DNA.

PSA/DNA is one of the most respected authentication services in the hobby. They authenticate everything from cards to autographs to game-used memorabilia. The NFL uses them for their auction items, but I’m wondering if they aren’t going to start using them for all game-used memorabilia. It would not only solve this problem, but it would give the added boost of making the the items more valuable, since their authenticity would never be in doubt.

The New York Giants and Eli Manning are demonstrating why the game-used memorabilia market is valuable, and at the same time unstable. The NFL now has to ask themselves some serious questions about the viability of one of their most lucrative markets. I can only hope the NFL makes the right decision and helps mitigate the damage.

I also am wondering if Brandon Steiner will cut ties with Eli Manning, and the New York Giants. It would be the right move seeing as how Eli and the Giants have damaged Steiner’s reputation. Based on the evidence, I don’t think Steiner was complicit in selling fake memorabilia. That said, he did sell fraudulent memorabilia, albeit unknowingly, and has his share of the responsibility.

This whole thing is a mess, but it does directly affect the racing memorabilia market because like the NFL, racing teams are the ones selling their racing memorabilia. Now while it is much harder to fake a race-worn driver suit, collectors should be much more careful. Researching is key to not getting ripped off. That’s why I do the work I do, in order to help the collector know what to look for. I’m disgusted that I have to discuss this, but I have no choice. I hope this situation gets resolved, and the right people make the right decisions.

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