Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How Confusing Are These Athletes' Names?

Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron and Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan both made the the mid-season All-Pro team in Sports Illustrated. With Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski sidelined for the first six weeks of the season, Cameron made sense as the best at his position in the AFC. Even if Gronk had been healthy, though, it would have been fun to pick both Cameron and Jordan. (That is, Jordan Cameron and Cameron Jordan.)

Sports names have a long history of playing similar games with our minds. Aside from the many family members who have played in pro leagues (the Alous, the Mannings, and the Sutters), there are many athletes whose names have otherwise confused us.

In the 1980s, NBA fans were blessed to watch Earvin Johnson and Isiah Thomas, two of the best guards to ever play the game. In the decades since, those same fans have been less fortunate to watch Ervin Johnson (career 4.1 points per game) and Isaiah Thomas (currently in his third season with the woeful Sacramento Kings). I'm sure Magic and Zeke are quick to utter "No relation" when questioned about their almost-namesakes.

And there are plenty of other athletes who might want to distance themselves from their homophonic peers. For instance, Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers has terrorized many more receivers than Steve Smith* of the Bucs. (And don't forget about the eponymous former Hawks guard Steve Smith.)

*Although the less-accomplished Steve Smith did play a a key role in Super Bowl XVII, one of my greatest thrills as a sports fan.

But it's not just common surnames like Smith that make us ask, "Which one?" Take Stoudamire/Stoudemire: The NBA has featured Damon and Salim Stoudamire (cousins), as well as Amar'e Stoudemire (deceased).

There are also some names that sound like rhyming lyrics to a poem. Think Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje.

Sometimes, having similar names to others even garners athletes undue recognition. Braves outfielder B.J. Upton hit a historically bad .184 with a .268 on-base percentage last season, while his brother Justin hit .263 with 27 homers. Despite their underperformance, both landed on the cover of the Sports Illustrated MLB Playoff issue. Why? Well...

Oh, right, the name thing...

The luck of the Upton brothers notwithstanding, it's not always good to have a name similar to that of a pop culture icon. I'm sure former NFL receiver Charlie Brown caught a lot of grief, much of it not good. And we all know that Joe Montana would never want to be compared to Joe Mantegna.

(Sorry I couldn't find the unedited "crazy asshole" version.)
So where's all this going? What's the parallel between athletes' names and my own life?

That's right. Your favorite full-time teacher/part-time blogger/one-time wannabe athlete shares a surname with Bob Tolan. Bobby had a .314 on-base percentage and amassed just 10.2 wins above replacement in 13 MLB seasons, making him a decidedly below-average player. Meaning, if someone ever asks me about him, I'll make sure to channel Magic Johnson and reply "No relation."

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