By Travis Stahl
What’s in a name? Unfortunately, not much anymore if you are talking about a nickname. Gone are the days of the catchy moniker that is applied to an athlete and becomes part of our everyday culture. During the height of print media the nickname was applied to give an athlete and a story flare to catch the eyes and attention of readers. As print media continues it slow demise the nickname has also died out from American sports culture.
Nicknames used to be prevalent in every sport. Basketball at Magic, Dr. J, Wilt the Stilt and Air Jordan. Football had Sweetness and the Refrigerator, Mean Joe and Too Tall. Even boxing had great nicknames like Iron Mike and Quick Tillis. Baseball always had the best nicknames. How does somebody acquire the nickname Oil Can? Probably the same way a player gets labeled Catfish or Pudge. Nicknames became household names and even the most casual fan knew who these players were. Nicknames were fun and displayed a quality about the player that made them recognizable.
Quick, shout out a nickname that has been applied to a player in the last 10 years that did not have something to do with the player’s initials or a part of their name. It can’t be done. Fans today only have A-Rod, ‘Bron or RGIII. Those aren’t nicknames, those are abbreviations.
Nicknames were typically applied to players by media writers who covered local teams in newspapers and magazines. The names were intended to draw the readers in with a catchy headline featuring the nickname. Once the names were used so many times they became interchangeable with the players actual first name. Nobody refers to Magic Johnson as Earvin except Johnson’s mother and Larry Bird. Does anybody even know what Oil Can Boyd’s real first name is? For those of you scoring at home the answer is Dennis.
As print media slowly dies out so does the nickname. Every year there are fewer people who get a newspaper delivered to their homes. Magazine subscriptions also decline annually as the internet draws in more and more readers. It is now easier for people who seek out news stories to do so on the web. While headlines are still a necessity, they no longer hold the importance they used to when printed in a newspaper.
This change in culture is an unfortunate side effect of the decline of print media. Nicknames were fun, they were electric, and they drew you into the sport. Nicknames used to be so prevalent they were even applied to players that really weren’t very good like Eric “Sleepy” Floyd or “Bad Moon” Andre Rison. Nicknames were important to fans, they had meaning.
Sports fans still need The Admiral, Mercury and The Snake. The nickname used to be an integral part of sports and its demise is unfortunate. Athletes used to be players of a game, willing to share a part of who they are with the fans. Now it seems players are simply a brand and it would be financially unwise to confuse a nickname with a marketable commodity. Hopefully someday the nickname will be important again and provide readers with some catchy headlines that remind readers of days gone by.