el futbol americano

Football season began this weekend, and like millions of other people, I will spend far too much time over the next few months getting emotionally attached to meaningless events beyond my control. My mood on certain Sundays will depend on whether or not an enormous, steroid-enhanced millionaire in a bulky uniform can catch a weirdly shaped spinning object.

There are, of course, few Hispanics who play professional football. Genetically, we tend not to be that big, which is a serious disadvantage in a game based on brute force. Once you get past Tony Gonzalez of the Kansas City Chiefs and a few diminutive place-kickers scattered around the league, the NFL isn’t exactly awash in Latinos. Still, we will soon have at least one honorary Hispanic take the field.

Chad Johnson, a receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, has legally changed his name to Chad Ocho Cinco. For those of you who passed freshman Spanish, you know that “ocho cinco” means “eight five.” It’s a reference to Johnson’s jersey number (eighty-five), although strictly speaking, he should have changed his name to Ochenta y Cinco.

He first slapped “ocho cinco” on the back of his jersey in 2006, when the NFL celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month (which, by the way, is in September). He wore it for pregame warm-ups, but had to remove the moniker for the game because the NFL pointed out that it wasn’t his real name. Well, it is now, and his jersey will indicate as much while we hear the pleasing baritone of sportscasters intone, “and the pass is complete to Ocho Cinco.”

As someone who also changed his last name to reflect Hispanic heritage, I can understand Johnson’s… I mean Ocho Cinco’s decision. Why not choose a name that better reflects your personality, and that has the added benefit of paying tribute to an oft-marginalized culture? And really, how attached could the guy be to the name “Johnson” anyway?

There are a couple of differences between me and Mr. Ocho Cinco, however. First, I’m truly Hispanic, and he’s not. Actually, I don’t have to enumerate any other points besides that one. But I will add that I chose my mother’s maiden name as my new surname, bypassing the megalomania inherent in picking a random number that celebrates just me and my greatness.

In any case, Ocho Cinco joins the very short list of celebrities who have changed their names to something Hispanic or, at the very least, expressed a desire to be Latino. It’s further proof that our hipness level is slowly, incrementally rising.

I am not a Bengals fan, but I hope Ocho Cinco does well this year. After all, if he sucks, we’ll hear, “He was pretty good, until he decided to get all Hispanic on us.”


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September 2008
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