David Ortiz selfie alert: Is Boston Marathon next?

Bob Woods, Special to

Monday is Patriot's Day in Boston, which will include the highly emotional 118th running of the Boston Marathon, as well as the traditional 11 a.m. Red Sox game—this year versus the Baltimore Orioles—at Fenway Park, located just minutes from the finish line where last year's bombings took place.

And all that has some people wondering about David Ortiz's plans for the day.

Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (L) poses for a 'selfie' with President Barack Obama during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House to honor the 2013 World Series champion Boston Red Sox on April 1, 2014.
Getty Images

Near the end of an article that the Boston Red Sox designated hitterwrote in Sports Illustrated last week, Ortiz said: "In past years I always walked down near the finish line to watch when our game at Fenway was over, to cheer on the runners with my family. I'll be there this year for sure. Maybe I'll try to take selfies with as many people as I can while I'm there—that will be my marathon."

Open the can of worms. Ortiz hit a grand slam of controversy this month when his selfie co-starring President Barack Obama, taken at the White House ceremony honoring the 2013 Red Sox World Series champions, went viral. While Ortiz feigned innocence, it turned out he was in marketing cahoots with Samsung. The electronics conglomerate had inked him to a deal to tweet selfies as a promotion for its Galaxy smartphones.

That came on the heels of the star-studded, Samsung selfie that Ellen DeGeneres snapped at the Oscars telecast she hosted. In both stunts, the photos jammed the Twitter-sphere, generating as many wagging fingers for bad taste as they did hat-tips for marketing savvy.

Boston mayor on marathon security
Boston mayor on marathon security

So are Ortiz and Samsung plotting another selfie-induced hullabaloo on Monday? Samsung did not respond to several requests for comment, nor did Ortiz's agent, Fernando Cuza.

It's feasible that Ortiz's selfie line in SI was a good-humored nod to his White House shot.

"I'm not getting an overmarketing vibe," said Eric Fisher, who covers baseball and digital media for SportsBusiness Journal. "It's almost more of a wink and a nod thing. Maybe he does it, maybe he doesn't."

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But if the shutter falls and tweets abound, it could be risky marketing maneuver, given that this year's marathon's finish line will be a site of both triumph and solemnity.

"It's an incredibly dangerous thing to do," said Michael Lewis, a marketing professor at Emory University and head of its Sports Marketing Analytics project. "I'm not questioning Ortiz's motivation, because to some extent that doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is the perception."

Red Sox nation's digital triple play
Red Sox nation's digital triple play

It was reported that as Ortiz took the selfie with Obama, a teammate blurted, "Cha-ching." Oakley is among marketers said to have paid endorser athletes bonuses for getting its sunglasses on TV or in print. So in the social media zeitgeist, it's entirely logical that Ortiz has a similar pact with Samsung.

"It reflects the sophistication of the Samsung agreement with Ortiz," suggested Rick Burton, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University.

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The White House mildly balked at "selfie-gate," but Ortiz suffered no big blowback. The marathon could be different.

"You only need one person to say, 'I accuse you of profiting off of last year's horror' to then have a huge population turn against you," Burton said. "Usually, PR blunders are just because no one has actually stopped and said, 'Could someone be offended by this?' If I'm his agent, I pull him off of this."

—By Bob Woods, Special to