Tuesday, October 4, 2011

number 4

Team Names and Mascots

With the football team from D.C. enjoying some success, debate about the appropriateness of that team's name has arisen once again.  I, of course, have an opinion (as well as a solution).  If you are someone who believes there's no good reason for a team to change its name, and that people should just lighten up, you probably won't agree with my opinion.  If you are someone who believes it's inherently disrespectful to name a team after any indigenous group of people, you probably won't agree with me either.  That's right, once again your fearless leader holds an opinion with compromise at its core.

Before proceeding, I need to point out that the following opinion is written by a very caucasian, white male.  (Although I must confess that I consider myself a native American - in the sense that this is the country in which I was born.)

I don't think naming a team after an authentic group of people is inherently disrespectful - as long as the team uses a name that's not offensive to said group.  An example of this would be the Florida State Seminoles.  On the other hand you have the Fighting Sioux from North Dakota.  I've recently learned that the name "Sioux" was given to that particular tribe by an enemy tribe.  I'm not sure of the exact translation, but it ain't positive.  The other part of that team's name - the "Fighting" part, should also disqualify it as an appropriate team name.  If they want to switch to the Lakota of North Dakota, I have no problem with that.

Provided, of course, that they use appropriate imagery.  Here's where we get to take the Cleveland Indians to task for their Chief Wahoo mascot.  A leering, big-toothed, big nosed image that should have been retired decades ago.  If they were the Cleveland Clowns (and sometimes they are!) it might possibly be OK (but only possibly).  On the other hand, Washington, with its completely inappropriate name, has a much more acceptable image on the side of their helmets.

So the Atlanta braves are OK, right?  The name doesn't seem to be disrespectful.  The image they use seems alright, too.  They're good to go.  Not so fast.  The dreaded "Tomahawk Chop", where thousands of "palefaces" channel their inner 5 year-old by hooting like an Indian while they chop away at their foe, needs to go.

There's no doubt that it can be a slippery slope, and great care needs to be taken.  All sports teams that rely on native imagery need to carefully ensure that they're not unintentionally causing hurt.  To those who say that tradition trumps sensitivity, I would ask them to respectfully consider the issue anew.  Any tradition that causes grievous hurt to others needs to be rethought.  To those who would say that no team should be named after another group of people, I would ask them to respectfully consider that perhaps the name is intended with all due respect, and might be a celebration of geographical heritage.  (There might be some need to educate people, but please don't assume a person is being intentionally disrespectful).

As Rodney King said, "Can't we all get along?"