Whats in a Nickname?
August 30, 2001
Does PC stand
for Politically Correct, or Plumb Crazy? Sometimes you have to wonder.
The hot topic in Montgomery County, Maryland,
is the local school boards decision that Poolesville High School must give
up its sports teams nickname, the Indians. It seems the nickname is
demeaning to ... oh, you know the line.
In May, 60 per cent of the people of
Poolesville voted to keep the nickname. It doesnt violate any laws or even
transgress against the countless corollaries the federal judiciary has found
lurking in the penumbras emanating from the U.S. Constitution. Even most local
Indians dont seem to mind it.
But leave it to liberal government officials to
militate on behalf of sensitivity, a word that keeps cropping up in
rationales for the dictate. Some people make careers of taking offense, even
vicariously. The tinier the matter you can take offense at, the more refined your
sympathies for the accredited victim classes.
One distressing exercise of sensitivity, in
this baneful sense, occurred in a recent article about C.S. Lewiss Narnia
stories, in which Judith Shulevitz of the New York Times Book
Review managed to find a trace of anti-Semitism, though the book in
question makes no mention of Jews. What made this discovery
distressing was that the article was, on the whole, a very fine appreciation of
Lewiss work sensitive in the best sense. (Ive even read an
article detecting anti-Semitism in the movie Star Wars. Dont
Whats so perverse about the drive to
purge sports teams of Indian nicknames is that the names are meant not to
demean, but to honor. The American Indian sensitively redubbed the
Native American has long since become a symbol of
qualities we want athletes to emulate, such as valor and ferocity. The American
paleface tends to sentimentalize the people his government once tried to
In the same way, sports teams
adopt the names of animals that signify power, speed, grace, and other admirable
traits: lions and tigers and bears, for example. By the logic of the exquisitely
sensitive, this must be insulting to predators of the wild. Why doesnt
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals object?
A glance through the sports pages yields a
long (though far from complete) list of our animal friends: dolphins, alligators,
cardinals, orioles, ravens, rams, bison, bulls, longhorns, diamondbacks, colts,
broncos, bruins, terrapins, penguins, panthers, jaguars, devil rays, blue jays,
marlins, falcons, seahawks, eagles, lizards, cubs. Are team sports fostering
contempt for all these species? By the same token, does calling a team the Padres,
the Saints, or the Angels encourage anti-Catholic bigotry?
Of course not. The real problem is, if anything,
just the opposite. Some team nicknames glorify not only animal predators, but
human ones as well. And this is what really ought to concern us.
As a defender of property rights, I am deeply
offended by sports teams whose names exalt despoliation. I refer, of course, to
calling athletes pirates and buccaneers. Thanks to
Hollywood, these cruel criminals of yore now enjoy romantic and heroic
associations in the popular mind. Maybe these marine vermin now seem quaint and
harmless, but in their own time they terrorized the seas.
What kind of message are we sending to our
kids when we glamorize such outlaws? Bear in mind that piracy was
internationally recognized as a capital crime. It still is, and there are some parts
of the world where it still exists. It should be neither celebrated nor minimized.
Please join me in urging the professional
sports teams of Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay to find new team nicknames. Also, your
donations to this worthy cause are urgently needed. Just make out your check or
money order to my organization, the name of which, to avoid any possible offense
to minority groups, is simply Cash.
Let me close on an upbeat note. Fortunately,
the most egregious team nickname of all time is long since defunct. A generation
ago the team moved to another city and adopted a new identity; but for many years
before that, while it remained in Washington, D.C., its players bore the shameful
name of a despicable class of parasites: the Senators.
No wonder they had to leave town and change