Wild World: A slippery name game

THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS in training camp in 2017. Could this be the last year for the name? (Flickr/C. Watt).

Naming an athletic team can be tricky business, especially in today’s slippery sociopolitical atmosphere. You need a moniker that will appeal to the fans, connect – if possible – to the local folklore and traditions and not offend anybody.

The greatest current controversy centers on the Washington Redskins, one of the less defensible names in big-time sport. It’s been controversial for years, certainly before the present Black Lives Matter movement got momentum after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Dropping that name seems like a no-brainer. How about the Washington Warriors? Surely the Dubs don’t own the name across all sports, right?

But things get a little slippery when you look at other teams. Cleveland Indians? Kansas City Chiefs? Chicago Black Hawks?  Atlanta Braves? Are those neutral or in some way degrading? How about the San Diego Padres? The padres who set up the missions along the California coast were not entirely kindly souls. Fr. Junipero Serra may have been a bold and hard-working fella, but I doubt his resume would pass muster today.

Boston Celtics. Buffalo Bills. One is an ethnic group that’s mispronounced (It should be kell-ticks) and the other refers to a guy who killed a lot of animals, perhaps for sport.

While we’re on the topic of names that might deserve to be changed, let’s nominate the Utah Jazz. If ever two words didn’t belong together in a name, that’s one.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are a clever concoction, but who could want to name a team after a deadly desert snake?

You could make a pretty good argument, I think, that some names are meant to be used as a compliment or homage. Many Native American tribes had been correctly famous for their fighting prowess.

Even if true, that doesn’t always answer.  Florida State’s team name is the Seminoles, after a famous tribe of the state. Permission to use the name was received from leaders of one clan, but another group objected. Who speaks for all members of a group, and what’s the solution for these controversies over what is truly offensive and what isn’t?

Just like history and culture these things are products of their times. If you dig deep enough you may find that just about everything’s offensive to someone. That’s not to say that some names aren’t really good candidates for replacement, it’s just to say that, well, it’s complicated.

We’ll have some thoughts on “better” or at least smarter team names next week.

“Wide World of Sports” is posted on Mondays. We promise to start writing about actual sports once we get some of that.



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