Canfield’s Lauren Esarco wants Wilson to make its official NCAA basketballs in America
By BRANDON QUINN
The madness of March is upon us, but getting mad over college basketball began last month for Lauren Esarco, 23, of Canfield. To be precise, it was the basketballs themselves — the 21-ounce spheres of composite leather millions of Americans watch diligently, only breaking eye contact to scour their brackets and the screen’s bottom line — that harbors Esarco’s angst.
A self-described “huge sports fan,” Esarco said she had March Madness on her mind when she went to Dick’s Sporting Goods in Boardman and noticed three words on an official NCAA basketball, piquing her interest.
Those three words: “Made in China.”
So on Feb. 19, Esarco posted a petition to the website Change.org in an attempt to persuade the NCAA game ball maker, Wilson Sporting Goods — “the world’s leading manufacturer of ball sports equipment” employing 1,600 people worldwide, according to its website — to begin manufacturing their basketballs in the United States.
Her petition has more than 13,000 signatures.
Change.org is an online petition platform which boasts 30 million users in 196 countries. According to a Change.org spokesperson, about 15,000 new petitions are uploaded every month, each to varying degrees of popularity and success.
Esarco says she has no vendetta against either the NCAA or the basketball maker and considers herself a realist in terms of today’s global economy. She does not lie awake at night screaming “Wilson!” like Tom Hanks’ character in “Castaway.”
She simply knows the pitfalls of outsourcing and its impact all too well.
“I’m from Youngstown. We’re just now, after three decades, trying to rise back up from ‘Black Monday,’” recounted Esarco, of the day when Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company announced mass layoffs on Sept. 19, 1977. “I’m familiar with the facts of what happens when industry leaves your town and I saw this as a slap in the face that something so American wasn’t benefiting Americans.”
“My grandparents and their parents worked in the steel mills. We’ve always been this steel town,” said Esarco. “It was who we are and just now we’re starting to redefine ourselves because we know the steel mills aren’t coming back. We’re old dogs learning new tricks.”
Asked if one could extrapolate from her petition that she believes all American companies should only manufacture in America, Esarco replied:
“I want to try and establish some type of precedent with it. If I can get Wilson on board, then I can use that as leverage with other companies. I can use this as a jumping off point. I don’t have this Utopian vision. I’m aware of globalization. But I believe so much in the American working spirit. Companies who profit from these purely American things like March Madness should sacrifice a little at the top to help out the middle.”
There will always be those who think American companies should, in all cases, refrain from outsourcing jobs.
Frank Lani of Flossmoor, Ill., wrote as his reason for signing the petition, “People will turn their backs on corporations that turn their backs on people.”
And Sean O’Rourke of Croton on Hudson, N.Y., wrote “Because cheap is not always better — when American workers buy balls for their kids it shouldn’t be from their unemployment checks.”
On the flip side, there will always be those who understand free market principles allow companies freedom to manufacture where they see fit. After all, there are countless American companies who outsource larger portions of their manufacturing than Wilson, so why are they being singled out?
As John Mitchell of Boise, Idaho, asked rhetorically, “Does it make a difference if the balls are made here or in China? Probably not. I guarantee there isn’t a single pair of sneakers on the court that were made in America.”
According to some petition signers though, the outrage over Wilson’s outsourcing stems from an idea that profiteering from an American phenomenon such as March Madness carries with it a moral/ethical imperative to support the American job market — a job market that by most accounts is devastating for the very college students going crazy in the stands.
Fred Steinhardt, of Syracuse, N.Y., a notoriously basketball-centric town, wrote, “As a small business owner in a college basketball town that has lost most of its employment to outsourcing, it is disgusting to find out that the balls used in the March Madness tournaments are not American Made. You should be ashamed! Traitors!”
In fairness to those who similarly hold Mr. Steinhardt’s mindset, Wilson does in fact represent itself as an “All-American” type company and pulls no punches with regard to how its partnership with the NCAA’s March Madness tournaments has helped business.
The Wilson website proudly declares, “Backed by generations of athletes, Wilson is the true American icon in the world of sports equipment.”
Wilson is a public company, so revenue data is not readily available. However, the company is proud of its growth records as evidenced by this statement on its website: “As Wilson and the NCAA enter their 11th championship season together, the partnership is moving into exciting new territory. ... Because of our affiliation with the NCAA and its endorsement as the Official Basketball of the Men’s and Women’s Championships, the demand for Wilson’s products at national retail chains around the country has grown exponentially over the past ten seasons.”
Multiple attempts to contact both Wilson and the NCAA for comment went unanswered.
Every March, there is always one Cinderella story falling just short of immortality.
And without fail, the just-defeated coach steps up to the post-game podium muttering some form of, “There is no such thing as a moral victory for our team.”
Esarco echoes a similar sentiment.
“I’m not going for a warm fuzzy feeling,” she said. “I haven’t been in contact with anyone at their company yet, but I’m definitely shooting for some type of impact at Wilson, whether it is a long term shift or not. I’d consider any new creation of jobs here in America by Wilson a victory.
“I never thought I would receive 10,000 signatures. I thought maybe I can get 500 people to sign this. I check it constantly and see it increase and increase. And now, the number is arbitrary. The reasons why people are signing it, those have inspired me the most.”
Added Esarco, “We can all rally around basketball, it’s apple pie.”