By Steve Rushin, Sports Illustrated

In America last year, more newborns were named Armani (518) than Ann (494). The number of infants called Lexus and Mercedes (1,206) exceeded the number called Nancy (1,168). More girls were christened Cristal (476), as in the high-end champagne, than Barbara (427). And we welcomed fewer Jimmys (1,129) than we did Kobes (1,203), in homage to the Laker who himself was named for the world's most expensive beef. If you don't believe me, just ask the U.S. Social Security Administration, which keeps these statistics. Instead of aspiring to the lap of luxury, parents are putting luxury in their laps.

Consumers have proudly posted photos on the Internet of their corporate-logo tattoos -- permanent ads for Apple, Campagnolo and Volkswagen. The body of X Games legend Shaun Palmer is festooned with Cadillac logos. English footballer Robbie Savage has an Armani logo on one arm. Branding, once an empty corporate buzzword, has taken on a new, and literal, meaning.

Should our growing legions of Armanis, Lexuses and Cristals go on to attend the Alice Costello Elementary School in Brooklawn , N.J. , they will assemble in what was formerly the school gym but is now the ShopRite of Brooklawn Center, since a local supermarket owner bought naming rights to the kickball coliseum for $100,000. The Vernon Hills ( Ill. ) High School Cougars play football on Rust-Oleum Field. Everglades High plays football in Eastern Financial Stadium.

"American children already suffer from an epidemic of advertising-related illnesses, from obesity to type 2 diabetes," says Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, a nonprofit watchdog organization. "This 'ad creep' -- the continuous infiltration of advertising into every nook and cranny of our culture -- is assaultive and leaves many of us seeking sanctuary. Some of those places, like ball games, no longer are sanctuaries."

And you thought ad creep was the name of the guy who made Fox reporter Chris Myers "interview" Leon -- the guy from the Budweiser commercials -- during a World Series at bat.

Like flood victims with buckets, sports fans futilely try to stem the rising Tide -- and Cheer and Bold -- washing up at our doorsteps. Stripped of the last subatomic particle of their dignity, the storied San Francisco 49ers now play in something called Monster Park, named for the cables and power-products company that won the naming rights to the former Candlestick Park in September. (One of the losing bidders was Virgin USA, depriving us, presumably, of Virgin Field at Candlestick Point, a phrase ripped from a Harlequin romance.)

And yet, "sports is one area where we're actually winning significant victories," claims Ruskin. On Tuesday, San Franciscans were set to vote on Proposition H. Like Preparation H, it seeks to alleviate a persistent pain in the tochis, in this case by stamping out corporate stadium names. The ballot measure is an ordinance that would make Candlestick Park the permanent designation of the taxpayer-built stadium on Candlestick Point, though the city attorney thinks the measure would be unenforceable.

Last week, two days after announcing that the Michigan-Ohio State football game should this year and next be called the SBC Michigan-Ohio State Classic, the schools acquiesced to angry alumni and abandoned their craven scheme. But Oklahoma and Texas will continue to play their annual SBC Red River Shootout.

For one glorious year, The Denver Post declined to use the official name of the Broncos' taxpayer-financed stadium -- Invesco Field at Mile High -- and instead referred to the place as Mile High. The Denver tavern owner who cofounded Friends of Mile High, a group that sought to preserve that beloved stadium name, lost the battle but became so popular in fighting it that he is now the honorable John W. Hickenlooper, mayor.

But we're still subject to ads infinitum. Every day sports fans are livin' Levitra loca. The Wizmark Interactive Urinal Communicator is a small deodorizing disk that barks out an advertising pitch when peed on, something that even Carrot Top won't do. And so sports fans have seen their last remaining sanctuary colonized.

After an avalanche of negative publicity, Major League Baseball abandoned its plan to put Spider-Man 2 ads on its bases in June. But MLB has since ignored the wisdom of Spider-Man's Uncle Ben, who said, "With great power comes great responsibility."

And so, right after the Boston Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years, Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore could be seen making out in the middle of the Sox' on-field celebration. They were shooting a new ending to their forthcoming movie, Fever Pitch. Previously, an animated graphic advertising Tom Hanks's new movie, The Polar Express, had choo-chooed across the screen. We were watching the Bank of America Postgame Show.

In that moment a Sox pitcher shouted, "We're going to Disney World!" He was simply doing what his surname -- and all of society -- suggested: Shilling.

Issue date: November 8, 2004