San Francisco 49ers

Why Donte Whitner's Name Change Is an Incredibly Dumb Idea

Feb 3, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner (31) against the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson LanglandNFC West Lead WriterOctober 3, 2013

Ever since Donte Whitner first stepped into a pro locker room, pundits have viewed him as a tenacious hitter. Coming out of Ohio State, Whitner was a blue-chip prospect that had blazing speed (4.38 second 40-yard dash) and amazing instincts.

Over the course of his collegiate career, he tallied 73 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, five interceptions and four sacks. He let his play on the field speak for itself, and it was evident that his ball-hawking ways would be a welcomed addition in the NFL.

Fortunately for the Buffalo Bills, they were able to secure his services by drafting him No. 8 overall in 2006. Whitner didn’t disappoint during his rookie season with the Bills. He was named NFL Rookie of the Month on September 9, 2006, and by season’s end he managed to put together an impressive stat line (104 combined tackles, four passes defended and one interception).

However, we all know one good season in the league doesn’t mean much. Sustained excellence on an annual basis is what turns good players into great players. Which is exactly Whitner is lobbying for a spot as a great player since joining the San Francisco 49ers in 2011.

When head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke inked the veteran safety to a three-year, $11.75 million deal, they were hoping he would finally live up to his lofty draft status. Lo and behold, their wish became a reality after one short season.

According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Whitner finished his first season in the Bay Area as the seventh-best safety in the league. He proved to be a monster against the run with a plus-6.7 grade, while playing stout in coverage. 

Moreover, he found himself on national highlight reels week in, week out. Why? Because as a member of the 49ers, he seemingly found a way to punish players with pulverizing hits—just ask running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. 

These types of violent collisions forced commissioner Roger Goodell to take notice. Despite being fined multiple times for his earth-shattering blows, Whitner continued on his relentless pursuit of obliterating the competition.

High-dollar fines from the league seemed to only fuel his fire and make him play with more of an edge. Yet, this past week against the St. Louis Rams, Whitner drew a $21,000 fine for a hit on wide receiver Chris Givens.

The hit drew a flag for unnecessary roughness, but Whitner thought the hit was textbook. Even Givens thought the hit was clean, via Matthew Barrows of The Sacramento Bee. Nonetheless, the penalty and the fine was justified because the receiver was classified as “defenseless.” 

Instead of taking the fine and moving on, Whitner decided to appeal the fine and drop the “W” from his last name. This, in turn, means he is in the process of legally changing his name to Donte Hitner. Yes, his last name now sounds like the last name of one of the most hated men history (Hitler). 

Not only does his new last name sound ridiculous, he’s just asking for more scrutiny. Goodell and the rest of the league will be analyzing every tackle he makes from here on out. Why would the eight-year veteran want to be put under the microscope even more than he already is?

Whitner must really enjoy giving the NFL his hard-earned money. I get that he is trying to take a stance and embrace the way he plays the game, but there are other ways he could validate his playing style. 

Rather than changing his name, he could try and comply with the league’s ever-changing rules. That seems to be a more suitable approach based on the fact the NFL only cares about protecting its investment and the safety of its players. 

Additionally, the name change may not be easy, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Here’s what Florio had to say about the matter yesterday: 

We’re not sure that a name can legally be changed that easily.  Or that quickly.  Or that the NFL will be willing to allow him to change the name plate on his jersey as of Sunday night to “Hitner” unless and until he purchases at wholesale cost all unsold Nike jerseys bearing his number and former name.

It’s not like Whitner jerseys are currently flying off the shelves, but it would probably be in his best interest to rethink the move and keep his original last name. The headache and the hassle aren’t worth it long term. 

Take a look at Chad Johnson; his career took a nosedive after he legally changed his name to Chad Ochocinco. As funny as Donte Hitner is now, it won’t be funny in four years when he is an unemployed free agent looking for work. 

 

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