George Boardman: What’s in a nickname? Plenty in these times of hyper sensitivity | TheUnion.com
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George Boardman: What’s in a nickname? Plenty in these times of hyper sensitivity

George Boardman
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

Observations from the center strip: Clueless edition

GIVEN THE clueless behavior of the average 18- to 24-year-old, college dorms will be about as safe as cruise ships this fall … THE PROBABLE new owner of the Sacramento Bee also publishes the National Enquirer … IF YOU’RE a sports fan, you better enjoy the truncated versions of hockey, basketball and baseball while you can. The way things are shaping up for the fall, they may be the last sports you’ll see for awhile … TELL-ALL books by people like John Bolton and Mary Trump won’t move the needle on the popularity of the president. People have already decided what they think about him ... BUT DONALD Trump will never win a libel case. He has no reputation to protect … THEY DISTORT, your decide: Fox News was caught removing a picture of Trump from a party picture of Jeffrey Epstein …

The Washington Redskins football team has decided to scrap its offensive nickname, another victory for the interests of inclusion and social justice currently sweeping the country.

The team’s owner, Dan Snyder, has steadfastly resisted the change over the years, and he received recent support from President Donald Trump, who is four-square against political correctness.

But the team’s fate was sealed when its biggest corporate sponsor, FedEx, signaled it was ready for a change, and Amazon quit selling Redskins’ apparel. Nothing talks louder than money in the National Football League.

The Redskins saga had a sketchy history. The nickname was created in 1933 by owner George Preston Marshall, a segregationist who was the last holdout in the NFL when it came to integrating players. He capitulated in 1962 when he was threatened with loss of his stadium.

Washington’s decision continues a new woke trend on the part of the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league has been slow to acknowledge the social justice concerns of players, has decided it’s OK for players to kneel on the sidelines, and has even suggested that outcast quarterback Colin Kaepernick is employable.

I’m OK with making the change if it makes Native Americans feel better. They’ve taken enough grief over the centuries from their European interlopers, even when you account for the fact they introduced tobacco and syphilis to their European tormentors.

But Washington will have to tread carefully on naming a new nickname (still under consideration as I write this) given our increased sensitivity to every real or imagined slight. Other mascots have not kept pace with the times, and you have to wonder how much pressure will be applied to college and professional teams with insensitive nicknames now that the Redskins have capitulated.

Stanford University started the trend in 1972 when it dropped the Indians nickname and eventually settled on Cardinal — the color, not the bird. Out went Prince Lightfoot, to be replaced by the tree — presumably a reference to El Palo Alto, the towering coastal redwood that looms over downtown Palo Alto and inspired the city’s name.

University officials foolishly let the students decide on a new mascot, and they overwhelmingly chose Robber Barons, in honor of the university’s founder, Leland Stanford. (The school is actually named for his son, Leland Stanford Jr. University.) School officials were not amused.

But other schools and professional organizations chose not to follow the lead of Stanford in removing objectionable nicknames, somewhat surprising given the trend toward protecting people from hostile ideas, hurtful thoughts, and other things they don’t like. Thus we find the Central Michigan Chippewas, Florida State Seminoles, Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns and San Diego State Aztecs still playing football at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

There are several other teams with problematic nicknames among the 130 schools at the highest levels of the sport. Environmental warriors can’t be happy with polluters like the Alabama Crimson Tide or the Tulane Green Wave, not to mention pests like the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

People who get nervous around bad weather have a hard time warming up to the Iowa State Cyclones, Miami Hurricanes, Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes. Then there are the mellow folks who can do without the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Speaking of religion, people who regularly ponder good and evil could find themselves wresting with the New Jersey Devils, Arizona State Sun Devils, Duke Blue Devils, and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, not to mention truly bad people like the East Carolina Pirates, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and (yes) Pittsburgh Steelers. (The Tampa Bay Rays used to be known as the Devil Rays until public opposition forced a name change. The team actually got better.)

Some people might object to the monopoly my fellow Catholics have on naming saints, which would make the New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Angels, and San Diego Padres problematical.

Nicknames can bring up subjects that make people uncomfortable. I suspect the name of the Colorado Avalanche makes some operators of posh ski resorts in the Centennial State squirm when the touchy subject is raised. The Milwaukee Brewers are clearly sending the wrong message to the youth of America. Then there’s the San Francisco 49ers, an era that still congers up bad memories for many of California’s Native Americans. The New York Giants and the San Francisco Giants are problematical in a time when we’re fighting obesity.

Some nicknames can just add more fuel to our politically-charged times. We have the New York Yankees and the Washington Capitals, as opposed to the Old Miss Rebels. For people who prefer to find common ground, there’s the New England Patriots.

Then there are nicknames that make absolutely no sense. The Los Angeles Lakers? They’re originally from Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The Utah Jazz? New Orleans. The Memphis Grizzlies? Vancouver, B.C.

If they are going to change the name of the Washington Redskins, what about the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Blackhawks and the Golden State Warriors?

I think professional and college teams should take a page from the recent trend of minor league baseball teams and just lighten up. I get a smile whenever I think about the Lansing Lugnuts, Savannah Sand Gnats, Montgomery Biscuits, Richmond Flying Squirrels, or Albuquerque Isotopes. My favorite college nickname is the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs (Once a Slug, always a Slug.)

As Washington considers its new nickname, it might want to reflect on the team’s poor performance during Snyder’s reign while at the same time honoring black pioneers in the days of segregated sports. To me, the Washington Generals is a natural.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Tuesdays by The Union. Write to him at boredgeorgeman@gmail.com.


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