Irked by the sheer lack of politcal correctness in American sports franchises, Amy Eustace discusses the etymology behind team names
America has a problem. With fifty states and five major professional sports in play, there comes a point when you have to get gosh-darn creative with your team names. The results are probably the best single illustration of a very over the top culture. Some of them are ingeniously ludicrous. Others are wrong on multiple levels.
US sports names make little if any sense as a general rule. That’s not to say we’re not guilty of it ourselves. Like, what exactly is a Kilmacud Croke anyway? It’s just when the name is beyond ridiculous and downright derogatory that things get decidedly messy. Take the Washington Redskins, an NFL team based in the country’s capital. Their poorly-chosen moniker has been a source of ire for years, and the controversy is coming to a head.
Native Americans have expressed their offense over the franchise, which borrows its name from an outdated racial slur, but the team’s owners are refusing to budge on the matter. Barack Obama has said he’d “think about changing” the name, and it’s commonplace among D.C. and national news outlets to refuse to refer to the team by its full title in their articles.
The Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Cleveland Indians are just a selection of other US sports franchises currently utilising Native American imagery. Unlike the Redskins, these teams haven’t experienced as much objection, but they all represent a continued oversimplification of Native American traditions and culture that contributes to a pervading stereotype; one the ethnic group is trying to disinherit.
The administration and the team’s diehard fans stress that the Redskins handle is central to their history, and is only intended to honour brave Native Americans who experienced persecution by settlers. A poll conducted of D.C. residents from indiscriminate backgrounds suggested that the majority wanted to keep the name, but could see why it was offensive and most would continue to support the side if they were to change it.
In reality, an intention-based defence, not wholly unlike Luis Suarez’s Rioplatense language dicta during the infamous Evra debacle last year, is the only argument put forward to justify the retention of the Redskins’ name, and it’s no longer enough.
The franchise has no right to say that their name isn’t offensive to Native Americans. They can’t say, “You shouldn’t feel ridiculed, we don’t mean any harm.” The point is that they do feel ridiculed, it is causing harm, and Native Americans are entitled to expect that a professional football team cannot perpetuate the use of a word used in the historical subjugation of their race just because they “mean well” and have been doing it for decades.
The Redskins are no bastions of colour-blindness. Despite a base in a progressive and culturally diverse state, Washington was the last NFL team to integrate African-American players. They did so in 1962, 16 years after the rest of the association. Nonetheless, a shameful history doesn’t have to equal a shameful present. This is a better late than never case.
Whatever the motive was for keeping it this way this long, retaining the Redskins name now in the wake of all the recent debate is conscientious ignorance of the damage being done. Sport operates in a morally ambiguous zone, but by now there can be no uncertainty. Holding on to the name is the wrong call. Changing it is a matter of when, not if.
On that note, here’s an elite, if incomplete, list of North American sports outfits who have committed some lesser team name atrocities. They don’t come close to the Redskins in terms of sheer political incorrectness, but they’re still offensive to advocates of common sense and decent grammar.
San Jose Sharks (NHL)
Their symbol is a shark biting an ice hockey stick in half, which seems sort of counter-intuitive, and is exactly why sharks shouldn’t be allowed to play hockey. They get away with it, because who’s going to tell a shark he can’t play hockey? Nobody.
San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)
Making residing in the vicinity of the San Andreas Fault sound fun and sporty since 1994. Tectonic plates are craic, just ask anybody who took GEOL10040: Earth, Environment and Society as an ‘easy elective’.
Minnesota Wild (NHL)
An entirely abstract team name. I don’t even know what that means. Nobody knows what it means. But it’s provocative. It gets the people going. They do get to play ‘Born To Be Wild’ by Steppenwolf though, and I guess that’s as good an excuse as any.
Utah Jazz (NBA)
Formerly the New Orleans Jazz, which makes sense. The Jazz held onto their name when they moved to desert state Utah, which doesn’t. But, you know, I’m sure lots of Mormons listen to jazz.
Real Salt Lake (MLS)
“We’re a soccer team! Real Madrid is also a soccer team! Let’s ignore the fact that ‘Real’ is the Spanish word for ‘royal’, denoting association with the monarchy, and that Utah has a Hispanic population of about 13%. We do what we want! Freedom! U-S-A! U-S-A!” And so on.
Denver Nuggets (NBA)
The Colorado Gold Rush is so 1858, Denver. In modern day language, you’re just a team of dunking deep fried chicken pieces: the Denver McNuggets.
Houston Texans (NFL)
Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)
Canada is arguably worse for terrible names, like this pathetic excuse for grammar. Ardent Leafs fans will tell you some long-winded explanation about pluralising proper nouns, but if you just respond with “Eh?” they’ll probably leave you be. Whatever, who needs grammar when you have free healthcare right? You wouldn’t see this kind of behaviour from the Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA), that’s for sure.