- Grove City, Pennsylvania

March 20, 2013

EXTRA INNINGS: Battle over 'objectionable' sports-team names is overblown

By Jim Sankey
Allied News Sports Columnist

OPINION — EVERY ONCE in a while, someone files suit somewhere in this country complaining that they are offended by the use of “disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous, or disreputable” nicknames for sports teams. The complainers cite a law that prohibits registered names that embody the above adjectives.

The most common perceived grievance is usually charged against those teams whose nicknames are connected to “American Indian,” the official legal term used in the United States for the more politically correct “Native Americans”: Chiefs, Braves, Indians, Redskins.

The latest chapter in this seemingly never-ending battle took place a couple of weeks ago when a group of American Indians filed suit, charging that “Redskins” is a slur, disparaging to American Natives.

A similar case first filed in 1992 was not settled until 2009, when the Supreme Court refused to intervene in the hubbub.

Lawyers for both sides expect that it will be at least a year before any ruling comes down, and whichever side loses will no doubt appeal.

Redskins general manager Bruce Allen called the complaint “ludicrous” and that the team is not “trying to upset anybody” with its nickname; he insists the team has no plans to change it.

“There’s nothing that we feel is offensive,” Allen said. “And we’re proud of our history.”

Team owner Dan Snyder has also vowed not to change the name, saying the name honors American Indians, not ridicules them.

Similar complaints have often been registered against the Atlanta Braves’ and Florida State University Seminoles’ Tomahawk chop and “war chant” and the team logo of the Cleveland Indians—Chief Wahoo.

In a 2002 article, "Sports Illustrated" found that “…although…activists and tribal leaders consider Indian team names and mascots offensive, neither Native Americans in general nor a cross section of U.S. sports fans agree. There is a near total disconnect between Indian activists and the Native American population on this issue."

A 2004 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania confirmed the SI findings about teams’ nicknamed references to Native Americans: The poll showed that 91% of the American Indians surveyed in the 48 states on the mainland USA found the name of 'Washington Redskins' football team acceptable.”

Despite this, the radicals continue to stir up controversy.

In 2005, the NCAA announced it would ban the use of American Indian imagery and nicknames at postseason tournaments. Some schools (the Seminoles) were been granted exceptions with the support of tribes.

In 2006, the NCAA put Indiana University of Pennsylvania and 18 other schools on a list of schools that would be subject to disciplinary action if they didn't drop “Indians” as a nickname. Had it kept the nickname, the university (renamed the Crimson Hawks for 2007) wouldn’t have been allowed to host a postseason game sponsored by the NCAA and players from IUP would have to cover any Indian symbolism on their uniforms at all other NCAA-sponsored championship events.

The madness continues: Last month Cooperstown (NY) High School dropped their "Redskins" nickname and is considering renaming its teams "Deerslayers," "Hawkeyes," or "Pathfinders" after James Fenimore Cooper.  

The ludicrous examples abound and are not limited to Indians: Several years ago, a Sharpsville woman wanted the board to get rid of Blue “Devils” as its nickname. And when people complained about the Washington “Bullets,” the team changed its name to the “Wizards,” thereby offending a slew of other people who imagine the Devil behind every Harry Potter movie, each book in the Frank Baum series, fairy tales with witches, and trick or treating for Halloween.

But if American Indians are supposed to be upset, shouldn’t all Irish be upset that a leprechaun represents the “Fighting” Irish of Notre Dame?  Activists be distressed at the use of animal and bird names for teams of intense sports? Poe enthusiasts be angry that Baltimore abuses the use of Ravens? Pacifists rail against the Warriors, Fighting Eagles (oh, no, animals and violence!)?

Or do some people simply need to get a life?