Ed. note: Please join us in welcoming Nick Marlow to the LGHL family. He'll write on all things Buckeyes here and there for us and we're thrilled to have him on board.
Followers of Donte Whitner on Twitter know he's made a habit of prodding opposing fan bases, mocking fines and lending fortune cookie wisdom. He took to the tweets to vent frustration over a Pro Bowl snub a few weeks ago.
I'm mad!— DonteHitner (@DonteWhitner) December 27, 2013
You guys will find out in a few hrs why I'm mad! Peace— DonteHitner (@DonteWhitner) December 27, 2013
I'm done tweeting for the night! Gonna mess around and get myself into some trouble. Gn and god bless!— DonteHitner (@DonteWhitner) December 28, 2013
Like most Glenville kids, Whitner gave Buckeyes fans the run-around and took several officials before the inevitable commitment came at the tail end of the process. (Hard to blame him, though, because word has it Miami was pretty fun back in 2002.)
The Cleveland native went through the preliminary stages of changing his surname to "Hitner" after fined $21,000 by the NFL for a hit against the Rams, likening him to guys like Ron Metta World Peace and Chad Johnson.
Case in point: He's got some prima donna in him.
But while Metta World Peace and Johnson have become largely recognizable for hitting defenseless fans and girlfriends, respectively, Whitner's only knock has been laying the boom to defenseless receivers, and then peacocking afterward. More often than not, he doesn't even have to cut a check.
There's far more to Whitner than social media hubris and the cold-blooded onfield persona, though, which sometimes intertwine perfectly.
Against all odds... the No. 8 pick in the 2006 draft is in the NFL. He was raised by his grandmother and mother, Deborah Whitner, in the inner city and bears his mother's maiden name. That's why he had to make sure to run the namechange by the granter first, who reluctantly agreed.
"I'm forever going to be her son and little boy, so I have to listen to what she says," Whitner said.
He eventually withdrew his application with the Ohio probate court, but Hitner lives on in Whitner's Twitter handle.
Whitner's father, Lindsey Robinson, was in prison the first 16 years of his childhood and other family members served time, too. His upbringing reportedly caused him to become the patriarch of the household before he could drive. When the 5-10, 208-pound Whitner flies around the second level looking for another receiver to furnish with brain atrophy, you can thank his pops.
Per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle:
"As a young kid, I was probably angry a lot because (my dad) wasn't there," Whitner said. "When I went on the football field, I wanted to hit everybody and it felt good to me. Even now playing the game, I look for those things. I look to be physical."
Whitner calls Ted Ginn Jr. a brother, namely because he considers Ted Ginn Sr. a father figure. Ginn Sr. reportedly steered - forced may be more accurate - Whitner to Glennville as an eighth-grader, when he was all set to enroll at John Hay.
Aside: Maybe THAT is why LeBron James has adopted the 49ers for the playoffs.
Congrats to my homie @DonteWhitner on the game clinching INT and W! Since my Cowboys out I want him to win it all!— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 12, 2014
James, who like most Cleveland-area kids grew up rooting for the Yankees, Cowboys and Bulls, was raised by a single mother in inner city Akron and filled a paternal vacancy with his AAU and later high school coach Dru Joyce II, so there's the possibility he wasn't just using his Cleveland connection with Whitner as a pretense to root for the team with the most titles.
The most remarkable chapter of Whitner's story happened at 6 years old, when doctors told him he may never walk again. He chased a football into the street and was hit by a car speeding through a 25 m.p.h. zone, suffering more than 30 fractures in his legs. You read that right... 30! The accident turned the poor kid's legs to linguine. His mom carted him up and down the stairs in a wagon and he wore a body cast for six months, eventually re-learning how to walk. As fate had it, Whitner went on to run a 4.4 40 at the combine, which begs the question: How difficult is it to practice medicine in Cleveland?
With the fear of god instilled in her from the accident, Deborah Whitner did not want Donte playing football when Pop Warner signups came. He had to forge her signature to pad up, as she wasn't willing to risk him getting hurt. (The irony here is she really was protecting others from Whitner. One day 100-Watt lightbulbs will give Chad Johnson and Pierre Thomas intolerable headaches sourced to this and this.)
You can't blame a prospect with a top 10 draft grade for leaving college early to join the pro ranks, but, for Whitner, it says nothing about his commitment to academics. He graduated from Glenville with a 3.7 GPA and reportedly was carrying a 3.4 GPA when he left Ohio State. He took classes at San Jose State in the offseason after joining San Francisco to make further headway toward a business and consumer affairs degree, eventually taking his studies online to avoid the hoopla. (Being known as the Guy Who Knocked Pierre Thomas Unconscious and receiving kegger invites from 20-somethings in Lacoste probably wore the 28 year old thin.)
Whitner plays the game with tenacity and doesn't apologize or beat himself up over the collateral damage of playing a physical sport. Off the field, he's mild-mannered and principled. He spearheaded an annual charity bowling tournament through his foundation after his grandmother was stricken with cancer, put up his mom in a new house after signing an NFL contract and has decried the Saints' bounty system. Most important, he leaves the agression on the field.
In an interview with Press Democrat blogger Grant Cohn, Whitner said:
If you take your aggressive personality home to your wife and kids, there’s going to be some trouble in the household. Your kids are going to pick up on your aggressive nature.
Buckeyes seem to get nine lives before they lose Ohio State fans' regard. Whitner's one for whom it's east to root. While some have worked to mar both their own and the program's name in recent times, Whitner still has all nine lives.