Several years back I worked as a copy editor for a baseball card company. Yes, it was mostly as fun as it sounds. Look up stats and write funky bios of pro athletes all day. Living the dream of an 11-year-old boy from 1993 … and getting paid like an 11-year-old boy from 1993.
The problem is, most children in this particular century have no use for anything made out of cardboard and putting that junk in your bicycle spokes these days has to be considered some sort of hazard by the millions of overbearing parents in this country. Needless to say, said card company isn’t exactly raking in money in 2013.
One of the best moments from working there came on Sept. 5, 2008, just ahead of the start of the 2008 NFL season. The company-wide e-mail read:
Subject: Chad Ocho Cinco
> Sent: Friday, Sept. 5 8:24am
> It has been confirmed with Players Inc that since this was a legal name change, Chad Johnson should be known as Chad Ocho Cinco moving forward.
> Michael– please update his name in Tracker. The changes that we will be able to make should be available to you in our system by Monday morning. Please advise ASAP.
> Seth – the auto cards you receive for that form have already been produced or are in production will say Chad Johnson. But again, with all new forms we must go with Chad Ocho Cinco.
At the time, Chad Johnson was my hero. He stiffed The Man in the best possible way. He changed his name. If you remember, at the time, the NFL and the Bengals were greatly upset at Johnson’s attention-grabbing incidents – namely, the time he put the "Ocho Cinco" moniker on the back of his jersey with then-quarterback Carson Palmer ripping it off just prior to kickoff.
Johnson's name change was inventive. It was brilliant. It was anti-establishment. And, most importantly, it pissed off Roger Goodell.
The change worked so well that at some point in the following five years everyone in America became so used to Johnson being referred to as “Ochocinco" that when Johnson changed his name back to Johnson recently, most people refused and stuck with “Ochocinco,” just because.
Now, changing names in sports and entertainment is nothing new. Sean Combs is Diddy today (I think). Beyonce went through that whole Sasha Fierce phase. Muhammad Ali was Cassius Clay. Metta World Peace was Ron Artest. The Sex Genius was R. Kelly. You know them all.
But what happens when a relative no-name in sports/entertainment changes his name and that name change isn’t all that clever or all that cool? You get the name "Donte Hitner." Changed from Whitner. Close to Hitler. But supposed to imply “Hit” as in “I hit hard” or “The NFL no longer allows big hits.” Get it? No? Yes?
Whitner Hitner is a fine player in the NFL. He made the Pro Bowl just last year. But he also plays defensive back in a pop culture sports climate that only knows offensive fantasy studs. He’s in no way Darrelle Revis. He’s not even Nnamdi Asomugha in terms of mainstream relevance. And this name change won't get him there.
Name changes in sports should only be left to transcendent figures (like Ali) or complete nut jobs that are already famous (like World Peace).
My guess is that when Joe Buck shouts out “a big hit by Hitner” a couple weeks down the road, no one will think twice. Not because of the Ochocinco effect noted above, but because “Donte Hitner” sounds like something close to a normal name for any pro defensive back.
Hail Hitner for this move? No thanks.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor and columnist Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS