In Re: Team Nicknames

In order to discuss Monday’s game I needed to figure out some way to refer to the opponents. I have come up with an ideal solution– a Washington DC landmark that bears a striking resemblance:

Washington Boehners

Work for you? OK, then…

Because I do political work for hippie causes, I often get asked how I can support the Indians. because I get tired of explaining this, this seems as good a place as any to explain.

Debates about team names gets confused, in my opinion, because people don;t grasp that there are three components to what we call a “team name”

  • The name itself
  • The logo
  • The marketing and other collateral

And there isn’t a team in MLB, the NFL or the NBA (the three I know about) that scores well on all three counts.

1. The name: As the Washington Post interactive graphic of opinions on the name shows, the problem with the name “Redskins” is obvious to pretty much everyone who isn’t old and white, Its a simple rule: pejorative terms for an ethnic group (“Slant-Eyes” or “Burrheads” or “Sheenies”) are out of bounds.

Because they get said a lot, let’s deal with the common replies:

“People shouldn’t be so sensitive.”  The correct response to this is almost always “Shut your potato-eating mouth, you dumb mick.”

Since the protests began on opening day, 1973, the majority of people who have written this or said it when a camera or tape recorder was running have been Irish. Typically (Pat Buchanan and Bill O’Reilly to name two) said person rages about discrimination against the Irish.

Michael Dyczko, who takes so much pride in his Ukranian heritage that he changed his name to “Ditka”, also shouldn’t be telling people not to be so sensitive.

“But these Native Americans say it’s OK!”  So what? I have gay friends who want to be called “Queer” or “Fag”; a black woman in a wheelchair says her preferred term for people in her condition is “Crips”. There’s a word for those people: outliers. Only a sportswriter– or a jerkwad– or a jerkwad sportswriter– thinks one counterexample invalidates everyone else.

“You can’t please everyone…”  That sentiment is entirely sensible if you are a musician trying to decide whether to accept bookings where the promoter tells you “Do not play any new songs– stick to your oldies.” It’s not acceptable when you run your business in a stadium built with taxpayer dollars. Then you have to try to please the highest percentage of the people who constructed it– and the entities legally bound not to discriminate– as you possibly can.

“But my dad liked it…”  In the case of the Boehners, there is a special example. The current GM, Bruce Allen— the son of the former coachsays his dad didn’t mind it either.

The polite response is that his dad died in 1990, and things have changed. The not-so-polite response is to ask why his didn’t mind.

The Boehners’ logo, as documented on this site, is interesting. The franchise was founded in 1937, by George Preston Marshall as the Boston Redskins. The Boston baseball team was called “The Braves”, so that’s probably how he got his idea.

As to how Marshall decided “Redskins” was acceptable… he was, not so coincidentally, the last NFL owner to employ a black player on his team..

For most of that period, he had a logo comparable to the one that appeared on the Indian Head coins.

Marshall had a debilitating stroke in 1963— he lived until 1969, but was unable to do anything. The team was being operated by his family, with advice from Washington superlawyer Edward Bennett Williams.

Williams was an Irish Catholic– he’d been discriminated against and was highly opposed to discrimination. It’s probably no accident that the Native American image vanished in 1965. Williams bought a share of the team in 1970– at which point the spear on the logo went away too.

But coach Vince Lombardi died and Williams hired George Allen (considered the Bill Belicheat of his era– great defensive coach, innovator and control freak) and Allen demanded full control over the the team. The logo with the Indian head logo returned in 1972.

So, yes, I’m positive George Allen didn’t have a problem with the logo– he brought it back. But assuming that Allen didn’t have a biased bone in his body requires ignoring a few things.

  • Allen was best buddies with Richard Nixon, who was kind enough to tape his disparaging views on pretty much every minority group while president.
  • One of George Allen’s other sons was a racist pig.

George Allen’s son, George Felix Allen was a highly successful local politician– he served terms as state rep, Congressman, Governor of Virginia and US Senator. During his soon-to-be-unsuccessful re-election campaign, Senator Allen took time at one of his rallies to compare one of the attendees– a natural-born American citizen (born in Fairfax County, Virginia) taping his speeches, in the hopes of catching him in a faux pas— to a monkey.

When the “Macaca” incident blew up, Allen tried to defend himself by claiming it was a term of endearment that his family used. When it became clear it was a term that people of French descent used to describe blacks, Allen’s chances for re-election vanished.

Bruce Allen might be as unbiased as the day is long– and maybe his father was a fountain of political correctness. But it we’re to believe his brother, at least two members of the family (George Jr. and the parent who indicated that term was OK) was not. As any trial lawyer will tell you, if you make an affirmative claim– that your father felt wasn’t offensive– you encourage people to explore what he did feel was over the line.

Because I live in Cleveland– and my baseball team of choice has an ethnic nickname– I’ll deal with whether the nickname “Indians” is offensive.

I don’t believe so. One may argue about what the correct term for the demographic cohort ought to be, but the worst you can say is that “Indians” is an old-fashioned term that the people it designates now dislike– like calling black people “Negroes” or the disabled “Handicapped”.

It was intended to be a tribute– the Cleveland franchise in the National League was the first team to employ a Native American who admitted his heritage, the AL franchise was one of the first and (while he always denied it), the Cleveland franchise in the American Association might have been the very first.

But because it is a term for a minority group, people in that minority group do object to it– as they do to “Atlanta Braves” (intended to be an honorific), or “Chicago Blackhawks” and other such.

It obviously isn’t the reason people get upset with the Indians. Were it not for other choices, I’m pretty sure the “tribute” response would be enough to get the protesters designated as flakes.

2. The logo. This is why the Cleveland franchise takes heat. No one with a functioning brain stem considers Chief Wahoo a tribute– its a caricature that is 100% degrading.

The off thing about the logo is that Chief Wahoo is the opposite of the normal progression a logo makes. Usually they begin as amateurish and poorly drawn, but become streamlined and professional The Indians went backwards. The page at the link shows the history of the logo:

  • From 1915-1920, it was a block letter “C”– similar to the one on the caps now, but squarish and in blue..
  • From 1921-27, it was a different “C”– not, to my mind, as attractive, but nothing to get upset about..
  • From 1928-38, there were three different depictions of an Indian head. They all appear to have been drawn by a fifth grader who got a C+ in Art, but they were not violently racist.
  • From 1939-45, the logo went to something that was difficult to reproduce, but within the range of decency. I don’t want to link to an excessive amount of Chris Creamer’s historical work, but I’ll do this one:

If you were going to redo that, you’d drop the lines and dial back the skin tone.

But in 1946, Bill Veeck bought the team– and that is the season where the “Holy crap– Who on earth would be OK with that?” period begins. Veeck was the second owner to have a black player and most accounts say he wasn’t racist. But even for the era, Chief Wahoo was an offensive caricature.

Nobody else’s logo is that bad. Nobody has even been close. The second-worst probably belongs to the Milwaukee Braves (from 1957 to 1965), but when the team moved to Atlanta, they changed the skin color from “fire-engine red” to “something resembling skin”. And the franchise had the good sense to remove the face in 1989.

I should stress that I am not an expert in the history of logos. Maybe some team somewhere is worse– or was. I’m just going by “what teams with a national TV contract have tried in my lifetime.”

3. Related Behavior. This is where the Braves have always been the worst. They’re way over the line in every respect– their mascot, Chief Noc-a-Homa, the music, the “Tomahawk Chop.” You claim it’s a tribute– but you have a guy on a horse in a headdress waving a spear?

The Braves, sensibly, got away from most of this in the 80’s. The Redskins still do stuff. The Indians have– in my memory at least– avoided it. The closest they’ve come is John Adams playing the drum. And not only is he unofficial, but he’s playing an instrument that every marching band has– and the only thing you could play if you want to be heard in a stadium.

The ideal solution would be for the “Redskins” to adopt Chief Wahoo as their mascot– trading their less offensive one to Cleveland– and use all the schtick the Braves do. That would create one team that people like Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos could root for and let Atlanta and Cleveland slip into relative obscurity

Why are people so resistant to change? Define “people”.

The fundamental reason fans object to change is that Chief Wahoo has been around since they’ve been following the team. To be old enough to have been a fan before Chief Wahoo showed up in 1946, you’d have to have been born in the 1930’s.

They have, for reasons passing understanding (“fan” is short for “fanatic”, remember), fond memories of the time spent with the team– anything that reminds them of those times is good.

Suddenly they’re being told Your behavior is no longer acceptable– in fact, it never was.” People get upset by being told, by others, that they have to change– their first reaction will always be “Who are you to tell me this? Why did it suddenly become unacceptable?”  Being told that they were complicit (by their silence) in a campaign of bigotry is even worse.

I owe my attitude about the logo to a happenstance: I didn’t grow up following the team. My family moved here from Minnesota in 1967. I started following baseball in 1965, and I was a committed Twins fan. One look at Chief Wahoo was enough to make my eyes roll. Six-year-old me thought the name was dumb, and he hated the logo.

I tried to be a long-distance Twins fan– had their been an internet, maybe I could have stuck to it. But, as Hannibal Lecter tells Clarice Starling, “We covet what we see.” So I switched. But I never wore the damned hat.

My first question about the football team was why the team was called the Browns. My second question was “Who is Paul Brown?” My third question (asked after a trip to the library) was why the Cleveland team was named after someone it had fired– who was now the owner and head coach of a team playing in a different league.

Also, that was the period where they’d stopped wearing the brown jerseys or pants.

As long as I’m doing this, I don’t know what a “Cavalier” is or why it’s relevant to Cleveland. But the NBA is full of these nutty things.

“Utah Jazz” is definitely a dumber name,. It should have been changed when they left New Orleans– Salt Lake City isn’t exactly a hotbed for jazz (or the ethnic groups who primarily perform it).

The stupidest NBA name is the Lakers. They were originally named the “Minneapolis Lakers”– which made some sense, in that Minnesota is the state nicknamed “Land of a Thousand Lakes” (that’s how the most popular brand of butter was named). When you move the team to a city located on a desert– which is constantly worrying about a drought– change the name.

It will be tough for people who built their lives to some degree, around that name and icon to give up that part of their lives. But, hey, stuff happens– life is often unfair. Plus, the protests have been going on since 1973. It isn’t credible to pretend that you didn’t know there was a problem– not for the last 44 years.

And if you can’t take one look at Chief Wahoo and see how he might be offensive, then you are a bigot. There’s no gray area. Ditto for the “Redskins” name.

As for why the owners don’t change– well, that’s obvious too: Money.. Dan Snyder, the overgrown child who operates the Boehners, makes an enormous amount of money  selling merchandise with the name and logo in it.

The Dolan family operates in a league that does not have a salary cap and does not share revenue to nearly the same degree. Year in and year out, merchandise with Chief Wahoo is in the top 10 in sales. Unlike Snyder, they can credibly argue that it would put the team at a competitive disadvantage if they changed logos.

If MLB put every team on the same financial footing, that argument would vanish. The sensible thing– for both Snyder and the Dolans to do– would be to move forward. But they’re probably not going to do that.

The Dolans sold a minority interest last season. I would guess that that guy (once he takes control) might be the one who sees the light.

I’m going to give a friend who works in marketing (it would probably not be good for his business to be identified with these words) the last word.:

Look. It’s the 21st century. If you were going to, de nova, name a team, would you name it after a racial group of any kind? Heck no. I’m maybe OK with Tribe or Braves… I long ago had a thought that the Indians should change their name to the Tribe (William & Mary did that), work with Native American groups to create a Native American museum at/near Progressive Field and highlight the Native American heritage in NE Ohio (including the Portage Path).

But I think the time is past even for that. Call them the Captains or something. Or pick up on the Captain America craze, since it was filmed in Cleveland, do a deal with Marvel and call them the Americans. Lots of ideas

The only shortcoming is that a name that would make people happy locally (the Cleveland Rockers) was burned off in services of a failed WNBA team.


4 thoughts on “In Re: Team Nicknames

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