October 8th, 2013

BILLY REED: Get rid of offensive nicknames


Billy Reed

Executive Editor

BILLY REED: Get rid of offensive nicknames
The Washington Redskins are on Billy Reed's list of team nicknames that should be changed / photos from photobucket.com

My grandfather taught me, when I was very young, to have a healthy respect for Native Americans. I never heard him use that term, of course. In the politically incorrect era of the 1950s, we simply called them Indians. I mostly saw them as the guys who always lost to Gene Autry or Lash LaRue at the cowboy matinees shown at the Trimble Theater in downtown Mount Sterling, Ky.

My grandfather was fascinated by the history and culture of the Indian tribes who lived near Mount Sterling in the pioneer days. He was very proud of the fact that he helped a couple of University of Kentucky professors, Dr. W.D. Funkhouser and Dr. W.S. Webb, when they excavated Indian graves, which were known as “mounds” because apparently more than one person was buried in each.

It was the Indians’ custom to send the deceased off to the happy hunting ground accompanied by arrowheads and other artifacts from their time on Earth. The professors sought these treasures for educational purposes and they allowed my grandfather to keep some, which he passed on to me. He was very proud that his photo appeared a couple of times in a book the professors co-authored.

The Indians were heroes to my grandfather. He told me about their bravery, their honesty and their respect for the land. He loved Indians from all walks of life. Heck, whenever the professional wrestler Chief Don Eagle would appear on the Saturday night bouts televised from Cincinnati, my grandfather would let me stay up late and watch.

So this is why you can count me on the side of those who believe it’s way past time for the Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Florida State Seminoles to change their nicknames. I don’t care if some Native Americans say they’re not offended. Enough of them are to mandate a change.

Understand, I’m hardly a knee-jerk politically correct guy. I would hate to see Notre Dame’s teams cease to be called “The Fighting Irish” because somebody thinks it’s an affront to natives of Ireland. I’m also glad the politically correct police have not found their way to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, whose teams are known as the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Besides that, we have far too many pro and college teams with unimaginative nicknames. I’m bored with Wildcats, Bobcats and Bearcats. I’m weary of Panthers, Bears and Lions. Cardinals and Eagles don’t send me soaring. And don’t get me started on reptiles — Gators, Diamondbacks and Moccasins. Ugh.

I also didn’t like it when Marquette gave up the nickname Warriors for — sigh — Golden Eagles. To me, warriors is a generic term that isn’t specific to Native Americans. Marquette could say the nickname is in honor of our Armed Forces and change its colors to camouflage. Or it could say the name refers to the Roman Empire and let its team warm up in togas.

At my alma mater, Transylvania University, our teams are known as the Pioneers because we are the oldest college west of the Allegheny Mountains. But since the general public associates my Transylvania with the one in Romania, I’m all in favor of changing our nickname to Vampires. I’m convinced a lot of prospective students would think that was over-the-top cool.

But, heck, I’m a traditionalist. WhenTriple A baseball return to Louisville in 1982, I wanted to call the team the Colonels, as they were known for more than half a century. But that was rejected on the politically correct grounds that “Colonels” evoked an image of plantation days, which would be unacceptable by today’s standards. (For the record, I still think that’s a crock.)

As a traditionalist, I know how much the Native American nicknames are embedded in the psyches of their fan bases.But given the quirky history of nicknames, we know that fans can adapt when necessary.

Consider the fans in Baltimore, for example. For many years, the NFL team there was called the Colts. But when the team owner sneaked out of town years ago to move to Indianapolis, he took the nickname with him. The expansion team in Baltimore now is called the Ravens. I still have a hard time with that.

Have you ever wondered why an NBA team in Los Angeles is known as the Lakers? It’s because the franchise originated in Minnesota, a state with many lakes. But when the Minneapolis Lakers relocated to L.A., they took the nickname with them, even though it makes no sense.

That’s sort of like the NBA team in Utah being known as the Jazz. That was the franchise’s nickname when it was founded in New Orleans, where you might say that jazz is appreciated a bit more than it is in Salt Lake City, home of the Mormon Church. But when the franchise moved to Salt Lake, the nickname went with it. Go figure.

Believe it or not, the most racist athletic nickname in history belongs to the town of Pekin, Ill., just outside Peoria. It seems that the town got its name because early settlers figured it was on the exact opposite side of Earth from the city in China known, at the time, as Peking.

When it was time to nickname the local high school’s athletic teams, the townspeople settled on Chinks, as Chinese people were pejoratively known in those non-politically-correct times. And the name stuck until 1981, when social and political pressure finally forced a change.

The name Dragons was selected, and, according to a letter received by the Chinese-American Museum in Chicago, at least one former Pekin High student is still upset by it. The letter: 

"I graduated from Pekin Community High School in 1960. I was also voted by the student body to be the mascot 'Chink'. It was a great honor and still is to me today. Another girl in my class was voted 'Chinklette.' We wore Chinese costumes and greeted cheerleaders from the opposing team in the middle of the basketball floor before each home game. It was a gesture of a welcome and good sportmanship. I'm still upset today that the school buckled under and changed the name to Dragons in 1981. It was the result of pointy headed pablum sucking liberals who run the political correctness gestopo (sic) in this country. I do detest them so much. I am attending my 45th high school class reunion this weekend in God's little acre called Pekin, IL and I will proudly wear my PEKIN CHINKS shirt. Liberal and their pathetic ilk can go to Hell!!


1960 Chink, Bob Brown" 

At the time the Chinks nickname was adopted, maybe the citizens of Pekin didn’t mean any harm. Maybe they deserve the benefit of the doubt. But times and values change. Words and symbols mean something. And as President Obama observed when asked about the Redskins nickname, maybe the time has come for the Redskins ownership to change instead of continuing to offend a segment of the population, however small it may be. 

Consider the Confederate flag controversy that raged in the South for years. Defenders of the flag argued that waving it at football games was simply a way to honor the Confederate dead and show regional pride — that racism had nothing to do with it. But that didn’t wash with a large segment of the population. To them, the flag was symbol of segregation, pure and simple, and eventually their sensibilities prevailed. 

Now let’s examine the four nicknames in question.

I have less of a problem with Seminoles than the others because I believe the idea is to honor a specific tribe for its heroic characteristics. But the nickname should be abandoned because of the Tomahawk Chop and the silly Indian chant that provides the background noise at Florida State games. 

I think Florida State could become, oh, the Parrotheads without losing a fan. 

Pretty much the same argument applies to the Atlanta Braves. In addition, both Atlanta and Cleveland have been guilty of using cartoonish logos with big-nosed Native Americans. No other race is subjected to such ugly stereotyping. 

What new nicknames might work in Atlanta and Cleveland? Well, the minor league team in Atlanta used to be called the Crackers, but I doubt if the city would trade one stereotype for another. But what about the Atlanta Peaches? I think that has a nice ring to it. As for Cleveland, well, since that city is home to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, I’d be perfectly happy if the Indians were to change their nickname to the Beatles or the Beach Boys or, best of all, the Platters. 

And then there are the Redskins. 

By all accounts, George Preston Marshall, the longtime owner and president of the franchise, was a racist of the worst sort. But he is long gone and there’s no excuse to perpetuate his thinking, especially in the nation’s capital, where diversity should be celebrated as nowhere else. 

Nobody in their right mind would think it’s a good idea to nickname a team the Blackskins, Whiteskins or Yellowskins. So why is Redskins, OK? The answer is, it’s not. In the old cowboy movies, the guys in the white hats used “redskins” in a derogatory sense, as if Native Americans were almost sub-human. 

Given the current political climate in Washington, a lot of cynical alternatives leap to mind. But I’m not in favor of changing Redskins to Chowderheads, Filibusterers, Blowhards, Bureaucrats, Budgetteers or Bipartisans. And if you went with something like Statesmen or Governors, the scorn would be off the charts. 

But how about the Washington Hope? Isn’t that a perfect name for what the city should be about? I think my grandfather might even like that one.


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