C.J. Suess illustrates the merit of names on the back
This weekend, Major League Baseball is testing out a “Players’ Weekend.” The new observance gives players the chance to wear alternate jerseys inspired by the Little League, and they can even customize that jersey with their nickname or another means of personal expression. In one designated section on the sleeve, they will be encouraged to inscribe the name of a pivotal person in their life.
Meanwhile, for Minnesota State men’s hockey forward C.J. Suess (nee Franklin), customization of what appears on the back of his jersey has taken on a heightened significance.
On Aug. 17, Franklin announced via a team press release that he has legally changed his surname to Suess, his mother’s maiden name.
“This is something I’ve been considering doing for a while and now seemed to be the right time,” said the Mavericks second-year captain in the press release. “My mom has always been there for me and has served as my primary care-giver from the time I was born. Changing my last name to hers is my way of paying tribute to a person who has played a significant role in who I am as a person today.”
As the Mankato Free Press‘ Shane Frederick was apt to note, Suess’ decision mirrors a similar choice by former North Dakota goaltender Zane McIntyre. The current Boston Bruins prospect originally wore “Gothberg” on the back of his jersey until he made the change to honor his mother and grandmother in 2014.
“My grandmother and my mother have been very influential in my life,” said McIntyre in a news release that appeared on USCHO at the time. “With the passing of my grandmother and my mother getting re-married, as well as my sister getting married, I’ve made the personal choice to carry on the family name in their honor.”
In the same way that Suess honored his mother, McIntyre decided to remember his mother and grandmother, especially the latter.
“We lost her, but we still have a good part of her,” McIntyre told the Grand Forks Herald in 2015.
Beyond simply altering your jersey to your nickname for a special occasion, as MLB is sanctioning for its players, McIntyre and Suess both illustrate the exciting full-time potential for all athletes to honor their family and those who have sacrificed their time and effort by wearing their last name on the back of their jerseys.
While all college hockey uniforms display players’ names, that is not the case across all sports. For example, Penn State’s football team removed players’ surnames in 2015 with intent to show that winning was not just about one player. It marked a throwback to a longstanding Nittany Lions pigskin practice that the program had only briefly abandoned.
Another Big Ten hockey school, Notre Dame, has also eschewed individual monikers from its football uniforms for the better part of its history. Perhaps the most storied college sports program in the nation, the Fighting Irish footballers have only bent their custom for a handful of postseason games. But even that exception went by the wayside, at the players’ behest no less, going into their 2016 Fiesta Bowl appearance.
Ironically, that move came one year after Casey Nash opined in the Notre Dame student magazine that the time had come for full-time on-field individual recognition. He wrote, “Making player surnames a regular feature of the uniform would be a nod to the individual. It would not harm the collective spirit of the team. It does not involve the controversy of paying players. It is a matter of pride and a matter of principle. It is petty to deny the players this simple dignity in the name of pure tradition or quaint notions of how things ought to be.”
Nash’s 2014 case has, at least thus far, fallen on deaf ears.
Similarly, in professional baseball, the Boston Red Sox still omit names on their home jerseys after 117 years of operation. The New York Yankees, arguably the most recognizable brand in all of North American sports, have always done without player names altogether.
Undoubtedly, these decisions remind one of Herb Brooks’ famous quote that hit the cinema in the Miracle “Herbies” scene. This statement certainly rings true for almost every championship winner, but there is still something to be said for Suess’ and McIntyre’s decision.
In comparison to McIntyre, Suess has less flexibility as a skater, as a opposed to a goalie who can elect to alter their mask for self-expression. McIntyre capitalized on this option while a player at North Dakota before ultimately changing his name.
Are the Red Sox, Yankees or Penn State and Notre Dame footballers going to suddenly put names on the back of their jerseys? Probably not, as sticking to tradition has made them successful in earning national recognition for their on-field achievements.
However, Suess’ decision serves as a reminder that individuals play the game and that these individuals’ surnames offer a refreshing insight into who they are and what motivates them to keep moving forward, and to become a part of a proud team.