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V. Barbarino

Wackos...

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To borrow from Scorecard Daily, today's Sign of the Apocalypse comes from Pampa, Texas, where a little boy named ESPN McCall lives with his family. That's right, the 2-year-old toddler in the McCall clan is named after the cable sports network. ESPN the TV station is planning a feature story on ESPN the kid and at least two other boys whose parents saddled them with similar call letters ... I mean, gave them similar names -- Espn Curiel and Espen Blondeel, both of whom were born in 2000.

The naming of a child is a personal matter, of course, and if Gwyneth Paltrow can name her child after a fruit (Apple), who are we to say that the ESPN-loving parents are nuts? "It just shows the bond we have with people," ESPN spokesman Dave Nagle told The Associated Press. But pardon us for wondering if it's an altogether healthy bond. Most parents are likely to think of relatives, close friends, and maybe religious or other inspirational figures when it comes to naming their kids. When Mom and Dad choose to bestow that special honor on the folks who gave them last night's Brewers-Twins highlights instead, it might just be time for them to put down the remote and back away from the TV.

Some may suggest that ESPN, Espn and Espen's parents are letting television play too big a role in their lives, to which we respond, "Ya think?" If the boys need help adjusting psychologically to their unusual handles, Mom and Dad will probably try to call Dr. Frasier Crane. Maybe we should just be relieved that apparently none of the parents thought of having an ESPN camera crew on hand when the mothers were giving birth. It's not hard to imagine SportsCenter anchor Steve Berthiaume giving us the delivery-room highlights, greeting the new arrival with his Scarface-inspired, heavily accented catchphrase: "Say hello ... to my little friend!"

In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if their names influenced the boys to adopt the smart-alecky tone of the ESPN anchors. A few years from now little Espn, dominating a game of Capture the Flag, will probably shout, "You can't stop me, you can only hope to contain me!" a la Dan Patrick. Or Espen will look at his straight-A's report card and greet it with Stuart Scott-like "Boo-yah!"

Using ESPN as a given name is a bad trend, and not just for the poor kids who have to drag it through life. It also gives the network another reason to congratulate itself, which is the last thing it needs. ESPN has gone overboard in patting its own back lately, with its yearlong celebration of its 25th anniversary, contrived milestones like its 10,000th SportsCenter, and hyping its own awards show, the ESPYs, as if it were the Oscars. The general message coming from the network's Bristol, Conn., headquarters these days seems to be, "Help us celebrate how great we are!" Says spokesman Nagle, "We don't have viewers, we have fans." It would be nice if they had a little more humility, too? But that's not likely to develop as long as people are naming their children after the network.

It could be worse. At least the families haven't taken their ESPN fascination even further and given the kids the middle name of SportsCenter, for instance. But we fear the day may come when one of these little ESPN namesakes will meet his newborn sibling. "This is your little sister," the dad will say. "Her name is ESPN2, but we're going to call her The Deuce." It doesn't take a genius to see we're headed into dangerous territory here.

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