Many of us envy the fame and appeal of celebrities; the star treatment, the notoriety, and the fans. If we don’t envy, many of us are intrigued by the attention and support they receive. Then, one night every year most of us dress up as these “stars” for fun and for show. While many argue that Halloween is a get out of jail free card for girls to dress slutty, it offers us an opportunity to get the same attention as those who we dress up as. For one night, we are in their shoes.
Americans, like me, not only like to try to dress up as athletes and celebrities, but also love to mythicize these figures.
Nicknaming is the most common way doing just that. Whether it’s naming the random tall and hairy guy who showed up to your party “Cro-Magnon” or shortening a friends name from Blair to B, we have some innate propensity to name and rename individuals.
The media awarded William Mark Felt with the pseudonym “Deep Throat” as the secret informant who provided Bob Woodward with information that led to the details behind the Watergate scandal. Felt was nicknamed Deep Throat in reference to a popular controversial pornographic film and as a play on the journalism term “deep background,” which is the term used for information that is provided by a secret source.
Nicknames are almost always neutral or negative from everyday activities to politics. A whole new world of nicknaming is present in sports, however.
For centuries, athletic achievement has mesmerized spectators and as athletes continue to evolve they continue to enthrall in new ways. In ancient Greece, athletes were compared to Greek Gods as Olympians were as magnificent in their games as in their figures. Today, we mythicize our own athletes but in more creative ways.
Shaquille O’Neil is “Superman” for he was the most powerful and unique presence in the paint. Kobe Bryant is the “Black Mamba”, for his chiseled physique and tenacity on the court. LeBron James is “King James” because he’s living up to the hype and dominance in every aspect of the NBA from the game to the business.
Athletes represent the elite and the most gifted in their respective sports. These individuals are tremendous at games that everyone plays and can relate to. Their mind-blowing ability can only be best captured through metaphor and mythology.
We can owe this to sports writing. Its all began in 1924 when the father of American sports writing, Grantland Rice, described the backfield of the Notre Dame Football team as the “Four Horseman”. Rice used the biblical reference to the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse to glorify an otherwise atypical Notre Dame versus Army football game. Sports industries can thank Rice for he created a genre of writing that brought sports to a whole new level as an entertainment.
Players that would otherwise have been forgotten are forever immortalized because of their nicknames. Some of my favorite examples: Eric “The Polish Rifle” Piatkowski, Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, Qadry “Rocket” Ismail, Robert “Tractor” Traylor. If none of these rang a bell, you are in for a good time perusing Wikipedia.
Nicknaming also made UCI sports that much more enjoyable. Standout men’s volleyball freshman Carson Clark had a cape wearing cult following after the New University dubbed him “Superman” or “Carson Clark Kent.” ESPN even flashed images from the photo shoot during the National Championship coverage. The UCI men’s soccer faithful could be heard chooing like a train every time forward Spencer “Freight Train” Thompson netted a goal, which he did eight times for the Sweet 16 team.
This is where nicknaming takes a sappy turn: as much fun as it is to enjoy these nicknames, it is important to realize that these are not necessarily exceptional individuals, but individuals who are exceptional at what they do. We can draw inspiration from their stories, and rally around their achievements. As far as we know, these people could be leading completely different lives behind the scenes.
With that being said, lets thank the candy industry for giving us one day to enjoy somewhat being in their shoes.