September 12, 2000

Red and White Blues

Print More

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet — or so they say. But you tell me, which name smells sweeter: Bison Dele or Brian Williams, Kareem Abdul Jabbar or Abdul Kareem al-Jabbar, Michael Vick or Dwayne Vick, Robert Traylor or “Tractor” Traylor?

A person’s name is his identity. Ask me who I am, and I’ll tell you my name — not what I do, not where I’m from, and not my character traits.

All of these are wrapped and packaged into one name: Sumeet, or Sean, or Michael, or whatever. For sports figures, it is especially important to have a name that stands out because often, that’s all we know them by. We don’t know their stats, their face, nor their personality. But a good name will help give them a head up on the rest, even if they are mediocre at best. For example, you can’t forget a name like Plaxico Burress, wide receiver for the Steelers. You may not realize that he’s the leading receiver for Pittsburgh, but how many Plaxico’s will you ever meet?

There are five types of names in sports: the par, the international, the fan favorite, the obvious, and the obviously not.

The pars are your Smiths, Johnsons and Simpsons. They come and go year after year, and you often forget which was which — who quarterbacks the Bills anyway? Is it Doug Johnson? Or Rob Johnson? Or Brad Johnson?

The internationals abound in hockey, baseball and ping-pong. You’ve got your Martinezes, your Esmendes, your Kongs and your Nieuwendyks. The fan favorite, of course, is Miroslav Satan. How he wasn’t drafted by the Devils, I have no idea.

Some names are just plain fun to cheer to. Anyone named Bruce has plenty of experience with this. Is there anything more fun than yelling “Bruuuuuuuuuce!” when Bruce Smith records yet another sack, or Bruce Mathews prevents one? Tony Armas — a pitcher for the Montreal Expos — is affectionately noted by the fans with the following cheer: “Toe! Knee! Arm! Ass!” You don’t have to know anything about baseball to appreciate a name like that.

Then there are those names that obviously belong in sports. With a name like Champ Bailey (cornerback of the godblessed Redskins) or Cedric Killings (defensive tackle for the 49ers), or Mack Strong (Seattle’s fullback) you can’t be anything but a superstar footballer.

Names such as Dre’ Bly, Brandon Noble, or Sheryl Swoopes just roll off the tongue and into the stat sheets. They give you the image of a streamlined sports player who can bang with the best of ’em. Who would you rather have on your fantasy team — “Tractor” Traylor or Brian Williams? (Sensing this, Brian Williams changed his name to Bison Dele and was subsequently ridiculed out of the NBA.) And tell me it’s not fun to say Swoopes. You can’t, it’s impossible. Swoopes Swoopes Swoopes.

Here at Cornell we have our share of great sports names. We have freshman sack-master Jay Sackett, a defensive lineman for the Sprint Football team. Classmate Chris Shutt can’t help but pitch Shutt-outs for baseball. And look out for freshman wrestler Oliver Striker — the Big Red mats are all his.

Finally are those names which obviously don’t belong in sports. You can almost imagine a young Lethon Flowers (Defensive Back for the Steelers) being beat up in school for his pansy last name, then spending hours and hours in the gym beefing up and taking out his frustration and creating all hell on the football field. With a name like Peerless, you know not to mess with Mr. Price, off the field or on.

And only on the football field can you see the 6′ 2″ Anthony Midget (cornerback for the Falcons) cover 6′ 3″ Torrence Small (Wide Receiver for the Eagles), or defensive end Mr. Pleasant bashing down the Leaf otherwise known as Ryan. The NFL has its share of misnomers: there are three times as many Littles, Smalls, Midgets and Shorts than in any other league. The NHL makes up for it in hair colors however, as there are six Browns and two Brunettes (Andrew and Benoit). The NBA has a Buechler, a Baker, but unfortunately no Candlestick-maker. Maybe Jud and Vin can go out on their own spree.

So if your name is only on par, and you want to be a big sports star, just change your name – and your rose will smell sweeter.

Archived article by Sumeet Sarin