Friday, August 12, 2005

Team nicknames about honor not insult

The political correctness police are back on the team nickname patrol and the NCAA, that bastion of social sensitivity, has agreed to join their fight.

The NCAA announced recently its plan to place restrictions on schools who misuse Native American imagery in their mascots, logos and team nicknames. Schools refusing to comply with these guidelines could be prohibited from hosting any NCAA-sanctioned event.

The message is clear:

Leave the Indian mascots at home and cover those logos which depict Native Americans in a negative light, or else.

The Florida State Seminoles, Central Michigan Chippewas, Alcorn State Braves, Illinois Fighting Illini and the Arkansas State Indians are among those targeted for being “insensitive” to Native Americans.

This battle has precedent.

The Miami Redskins are now called the RedHawks.

The Marquette Warriors are the Golden Eagles. The St. John’s Redmen have become the Red Storm.

If you ever see a “red” storm approaching, I suggest you forgo the cellar and run for the hills.

Before the politically-correct cops decide to organize a new wave of protests at Cleveland Indians games, perhaps they should consider this obscure piece of historical fact:

In 1915, the Cleveland Naps were in search of a new nickname after their star player Napoleon LaJoie departed for Philadelphia. Readers of the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper were asked to provide their input on the choice. The readers selected “Indians”, a nickname utilized by the Cleveland club two decades earlier.

Thus, the Cleveland Indians were born.

The new moniker was praised not protested. In fact, the Plain Dealer called it a “honorable name”.


Well, because the nickname “Indians” was first used in honor of a Native American ballplayer named Louis Francis Sockalexis who starred for the Cleveland club from 1897-1899.

Sockalexis batted .313 during three seasons for the Indians. His throwing arm and base-stealing ability quickly became the stuff of legend.

Cleveland fans and Indians players were so enamored with Sockalexis’ skill they named the team after him.

So, the Cleveland Indians’ nickname wasn’t meant to be culturally insensitive. It’s origin was to recognize a Native American man who not only excelled on the playing field but also had to endure many similar racial prejudices as Larry Doby, the Indians’ first African American player, did many years later.

Perhaps if the NCAA, and others, looked deeper into the origins of team mascots they would find many of the same types of stories.

Wonder how the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have escaped this sort of scrutiny?

“I happen to be an American of Irish descent,” said Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla, who wants the NCAA to wise up. “Should I be outraged at the notion that the Fighting Irish suggest a brawling, half-drunken Irishman?”

While we’re at it, let’s sick MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) on the Brewers; atheists on the Angels; or Baptist ministers on the Blue Devils.

Predictably, PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is already on board.

They’ve asked South Carolina and Jacksonville State to refrain from using the nickname “Gamecocks” because it refers to the banned practice of cockfighting.

While they’re at it, why doesn’t PETA do something about the popular T-shirts and caps which display a shortened version of South Carolina’s nickname? That word is far more obscene than a few chickens pecking at one another in a make-shift ring.

Truth is, Florida State and Central Michigan have an agreement with the Seminole and Chippewa tribes.

They said it’s ok to use their nicknames as long as it’s done in a respectful manner.

Two high schools on the Navaho Indian reservation in Arizona don’t seem to have an issue with this.

Their nicknames are “Warriors” and “Redskins”.

It’s been reported that the local Potowattamie tribe gave permission to Miami of Ohio to use “Redskins” many years before other people began to complain.

Florida State University officials called the NCAA ruling “outrageous and insulting”. Many other schools, including FSU, were in the process of appealing.

On a personal aside, I am part Cherokee Indian. When I first learned of my Native American heritage I was thrilled and honored. Still am.

Name a team after me. I won’t care. Call them the Redskin Warrior Columnists, if you want.

Finally, wonder why the most offensive team nickname in the history of sports was never abolished?

Washington Senators.

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