It turns out the extent of Maria Sharapova's publicity stunt was the suggestion of a name change and not an actual name change during the two weeks of the upcoming U.S. Open. She will not be Maria Sugarpova, and that's pretty sweet.
Because an actual publicity stunt like that is beneath her. Sharapova has won majors and is one of the top tennis players in the world. It's not as if she is trying to establish herself and needs a publicity bump. She's not Norma Jean changing her name to Marilyn to earn her big break. Sharapova's name means something -- persistence and a will of steel, a single-mindedness than is both off-putting and admirable.
What is Sugarpova? It's the definition of selling out.
Sharapova launched a premium line of gummy candies and gum last year under the name Sugarpova; the product name is a cute play on words -- for the product. Changing her name to promote her product line makes me want to brush my teeth -- and does nothing for Sharapova, the person. Besides, she is already one of the most sought-after athletes when it comes to endorsements.
Could you imagine if other high-level professional athletes followed a similar path? Are we ready for "Roger Federal Express" or "Serena Williams-Sonoma" or "LeBron Jeans"?
Of course not.
Sharapova had apparently challenged her team to come up with outside-the-box ideas to promote the candy. It's easy to imagine a conference room full of "yes" men and women sampling gumdrops and lollipops and nodding heartily at the idea of a name change before walking out to disapproving stares. And this is the latest in a string of blips on the media radar -- last week, Sharapova lost to Sloane Stephens in the second round of the Western & Southern Open and subsequently cut ties with new coach Jimmy Connors.
The U.S. Open is a fortnight to focus on your game, not your brand. Sharapova's name -- her actual name -- was built by understanding that distinction. The endorsement money follows from the wins, and that's where the considerable force of her focus should be.