Life can get crazy when your namesake is a sports figure

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It was the second quarter of Super Bowl LV, and Chiefs rookie punter Tommy Townsend had just shanked a punt from his own end zone. Kansas City was trailing the eventual-champion Bucs 7-3, and the young specialist was playing nervously, having also kicked his previous punt just 27 yards.

A prominent voice took to Twitter to share his disgust.

“WTH!!!!! This rookie punter @Townsend looks too damn scared to be out there. What in the hell are you doing, shanking a punt that badly???,” ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith ranted.

Smith was far from the only person with choice words for the punter’s performance, but there was one problem: He had tagged the wrong Townsend.

Thousands of miles away in San Jose, Calif., software engineer Jason Townsend was chaperoning his son’s virtual birthday party. The party was winding down when Jason’s Apple Watch buzzed.

Jason was about to start watching the game when he saw the notification pop up, expanding the tweet on his phone to counter his disbelief. The less-famous Townsend had, in fact, been put on blast by Smith to the broadcaster’s 5 million-plus followers. He needed a quick, witty response.

“If I don’t do something, I’m gonna get destroyed,” Jason Townsend recalled.

What followed was a light-hearted response that earned over 47,000 likes.

“Sorry dude I don’t have any prior NFL or college football experience,” Townsend wrote. “I just played flag football in high school a little bit.”

His response tripled the amount of likes accrued by Smith’s original missive.

“I guess that’s called a ratio,” Townsend told The Post.

While Townsend doesn’t share that famous of a name — or even share a full name with the Chiefs punter — his Super Bowl experience is a peek into what it can be like living in the shadow of a household name.

Whether you’re fake-beefing with an ESPN personality, disappointing furniture store employees or being compelled to craft a fake apology, sharing a name with a famous sportsperson makes life a bit more interesting.

Not everyone’s shared-name experience has quite the same fireworks as Townsend’s, however.

Los Angeles-based broadcaster Anthony Davis — confusingly named @theanthonydavis on Twitter — receives the occasional smattering of messages but lives an otherwise unbothered life in the same city as the Lakers star.

“There might be another Anthony Davis out there who’s got more to offer,” he joked.

Sharing the same locale as the eight-time All Star leads to inevitable mixups. Davis has bummed out mailmen and Ikea workers alike with his unspectacular frame, an event that he now considers somewhat of an honor given the power forward’s growing legacy.

Twitter mix-ups, though, with a decidedly un-NBA photo adorning his profile, are something Davis has a bit less affinity for.

“I’m a British bald white man,” he said. “If you’ve got us confused, then we’re not gonna be friends.”

Davis, largely, is inconvenienced by his name and dubious Twitter handle. After all, the most controversial thing his counterpart has done is merely request a trade. These days, the Laker is most known for being an NBA champion. 

Others haven’t been quite as lucky.

Indiana sports reporter (turned news reporter) Miles Garrett was finishing up work at TV station WSBT when the Browns’ Myles Garrett violently swung a helmet at Steelers’ QB Mason Rudolph during the 2019 season.

On Twitter, the broadcaster caught lots of the flak for the edge rusher’s actions.

The tweets ranged from the typical slew of insults to the dryly humorous, as he remembers one person telling him: “Hope you get suspended for this. Nothing to do with Cleveland, just your profile picture.”

Garrett, like Townsend, made the best out of the situation, tweeting out a fake apology for the helmet-slam and parlaying the confusion into a “SportsCenter” Snapchat spot.

There’s a rough equation that these name mix-ups follow. The bigger the name and the bigger the transgression (like swinging a helmet), the bigger the shockwaves will be, though even Garrett’s experience quickly fizzled out.

Only the worst actions, then, truly bleed from the computer screen into one’s offline life, and linger.

Such was the case for one wildly unlucky play-by-play man.

On November 5, 2011, the life of a veteran Ravens radio broadcaster changed forever.

On that day, longtime Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged (and eventually convicted) for his widespread sexual abuse of underage boys. As the story was unfolding, the Ravens’ Gerry Sandusky was flying into Pittsburgh to call a divisional clash with the Steelers.

“It was a lot of weight on my shoulders as we flew into Pittsburgh,” he told The Post.

His concerns were well-founded. The broadcaster received a frigid reception from other diners as he ate in the team hotel that night.

“I call it the Sandusky stare,” he said. “They just kinda stare at you funny.”

Sandusky didn’t avoid the online plight of his unluckily-named peers, either. He was “invited to spend eternity in hell thousands of times,” and a Google search for his full name still brings up prompts for the disgraced assistant and former Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno. The early months of the scandal were often spent correcting confused people attacking him on Twitter.

“I did feel like I needed to defend my name, and my family’s name,” he said. “We weren’t gonna run away and hide, we didn’t commit crimes.”

Still, the enormity of the story paired with the homonymic nature of Sandusky’s name meant his poor fortunes didn’t merely end with Twitter abuse.

NBC Sports executive Dick Ebersol once pulled his hand from Sandusky when being introduced to him, he says. His teen and college-aged children were sometimes harassed at school. Stares at social outings were common, and one New York hotel manager even offered to check him in under a pseudonym.

People were still struggling to connect the dots.

“I recognized I can’t spend an hour explaining this to every single person for the rest of my life,” he told The Post. “So I developed a quick six-word mantra: Gerry with a G, no relation.”

The early aughts of this experience were trying, but not devoid of silver linings. The taunts became a teaching moment for his children about resisting the urge to retaliate. Sandusky became even more conscious of the spelling and pronunciation of other’s names. There’s even a slight appreciation for the ironic spelling of his own moniker — for a man with brothers named Jack, Jim, and (the late) Joe, and a father named John.

“Everybody wanted me to change my name… Well how do you know you’re not gonna change your name to something that some other guy’s gonna screw up by committing a crime that has that same name? I’ve always said, somewhere in America, there’s a baker named Bernie Madoff and a truck driver named Charles Manson,” Sandusky said. 

Not everyone with a famous name goes through quite the turmoil that Sandusky did, but there’s usually a positive upshot.

Garrett’s viral episode earned him the eyeballs (and Twitter follows) of industry agents and peers. For Townsend’s troubles, he got a shoutout (and apology) from Smith on ESPN. The previously basketball-ignorant Davis has gained a “huge respect” for his Lakers counterpart.

There will be more people dealt the hand of a well-known and possibly inconvenient name; there may well be more Myles Garretts and Anthony Davises in years to come.

As for Sandusky?

“I suspect after me, you will never see or hear of anybody who has that name.”

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