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At NFL Shop, a Rough Find

[SP_GAY1]Associated Press

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Hut, hut, shop! This is NFL Draft week in New York City, and pro football is trying to be fashionable with a “pop-up” store on Sixth Avenue—right across the street from the fetching Bryant Park, and barely a Lagerfeld ponytail length away from style Xanadu Condé Nast. While this brief retail experiment (known as NFL Shop at Draft) is not going to make the pretty people forget, say, Milan’s 10 Corso Como, it’s worth a visit, if only to answer the pressing sartorial question of these times: What would I look like in a $65 pair of New England Patriots board shorts?

The Indianapolis Colts. The Cleveland Browns. The New York Jets. The Washington Redskins. All team are looking to the 2012 NFL draft for the chance to help them win next season. Evan Newmark and the WSJ sports team make predictions on who will do well and who will do poorly in the draft this week. Originally aired on 04/19/12.

Here, among these well-stocked, masculine aisles, the NFL is not an enterprise confronted by soul-rattling problems (injury bounties, player lawsuits, new wiretapping allegations), but a beloved pastime, warmly adored by fans with high credit limits. Hang a left through the door near 42nd Street, and you’ll find a Vineyard Vines Philadelphia Eagles classic tote bag ($95)—perfect for the Iggles patron hoping to sneak a wheel of Camembert into Lincoln Financial Field. There’s a Miami Dolphins umbrella ($19.99) designed to defend against rain, and perhaps, the hail of boos upon the next Dolphins quarterback. There are draft night T-shirts with team logos and the syrupy phrase, WELCOME HOME ROOKIE. Sadly, there’s no T-shirt that reads GET ME OUT OF HERE, AGENT.

A screen pass away is the NFL Shop’s Nike section. Was I the only one underwhelmed by the Swoosh’s recent reboot of NFL style? I’d been hoping for radicalizations—kooky stuff, like what Nike had done for college football’s Oregon Ducks, turning them into Katy Perry’s backup dancers. But Nike played it safe. Outrage—how dare Nike tamper with 17 timeless years of Jacksonville Jaguars history!!—was avoided. It is here, not far from a sad stock of Mark Sanchez shirts, that we encounter our first trace of Tebow-mania: New York Jets-green $28 T-shirts bearing the words TEBOW IN THE CITY.

I feel like an idiot; I don’t get it. Is this an attempt at a “Sex and the City” joke?—if so, the proper wording should be “Tebow and the City,” no? If the point is that Tebow is finally in a city, wasn’t Tebow’s last home, Denver, a city, too? And for that matter, Gainesville, Fla.? Perhaps I will ponder these questions as I sit on a New York Jets Big Daddy Recliner ($699), eating finger sandwiches off a set of New York Jets TV tray tables ($225).

It’s through the entrance near 41st Street that I encounter the most bizarre but totally satisfying menagerie of NFL bric-a-brac. I thought it would be impossible to top a fussy Jets spa kit ($39.99), but I soon find an official New York Giants edition of the game Connect Four ($20), which will be fantastic when I travel back in time to 1991 and pass hours in a bus station with Jeff Hostetler. There’s a pair of Dallas Cowboy pacifiers for $10 (made for children, suitable for adults), a $24.99 Raiders piggy bank, and a Buffalo Bills garden gnome for $25. There’s a Redskins rubber duck that doesn’t have a price tag, but presumably Washington will pay $40 million for it.

I’m getting ready to leave when I pass through a section of spiffy athletic apparel from the company Under Armour, a brand which is all over the NFL Draft Combine. That’s where I see a T-shirt, folded in a pile, with a brash, block-lettered phrase that is so mystifying and out-of-sync with the concerned image a nervous NFL is trying to present right now, that at first I double-take.

[SP_GAY2]Daniella Zalcman for The Wall Street Journal

A T-shirt sold at the NFL Shop at Draft store.

The shirt reads: I WILL MAIM YOUR GAME.

Here we are, the week of one of the NFL’s biggest public showcases—a moment when the league finds itself amid troubling questions about player safety and the behavior of one of its recent Super Bowl champions—and inside the league’s own attention-seeking fan boutique, there’s a T-shirt for sale with the word “maim” on it (available in youth sizes, no less). Maybe it’s admirable honesty; maybe it’s a subversive statement on the contradictory pursuit of “safer” football. But I suspect if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell finds out this shirt is for sale he’s going to spike a stapler in his office. Or maybe not. The commissioner has already stopped by.

And that’s the thing. The NFL Shop at Draft is a very high-profile operation, located in some fancy real New York estate, generating enthusiasm, drawing enviable traffic. But right now, it’s unclear what the NFL is trying to sell.

A version of this article appeared April 26, 2012, on page D5 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: At NFL Shop, a Rough Find.

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