If you know me personally or have followed this blog for any length of time, you probably know that I have unorthodox political views (to put it mildly). When it comes to political correctness, I try not to give unnecessary offense, but I’m concerned about the effects of PC-ness on free speech and the sharing of ideas, especially unpopular ones.
On the subject of the NFL team based in the District of Columbia and its unfortunate nickname, some have advocated using the legal system to force the team to change the name–either by court order, or by cancelling the trademark protections. My perspective has been: let the market take care of the problem–the owner will come to his senses when people stop buying his jerseys or attending his games.
Inevitably, the question comes up of just how offensive the name is, what percentage of Native Americans are offended by it, and how large must the offense be to force Snyder to change the name. Some would say, “Even if 1% of people are offended, that should be enough to compel a change!” But you can get 1% of people to vote for anything. Heck, hundreds of millions of Americans will vote for a TV personality as their president in three weeks.
Being a parent is quite humbling and convicting about one’s language. I’ve certainly had to concentrate on eliminating certain “soft expletives” from my vocabulary now that Daniel is 6 and Elizabeth is 3. There are other words–such as the correct terms for genitalia and various bodily functions–that we’ve had to explain are not “bad words,” but they are “private words,” not to be discussed in public or at the table. And yet, Elizabeth loves to yell across the lawn (without any provocation), “But Dad, why can’t I say ‘PENIS’?”
Daniel is getting into sports, and he likes to understand the background of team names. So, this conversation naturally ensued last weekend when the Iggles played the Washington team:
“Dad, what’s ‘WAS’ stand for?”
“Washington, like Washington DC.”
“What’s their team name?”
(pause) “Um, the *gulp” Redskins.”
“What’s a redskin?”
“It’s a not-nice term for Ind–er, Native Americans. Don’t ever say it to anyone.”
“But can I talk about the football team using that word? Is that OK?”
Out of the mouths of babes…
It’s not unheard of for sports teams to change names. Sometimes, a franchise relocates and a name with its origin in the geography and culture of the previous town just doesn’t fit anymore:
- Hartford Whalers –> Carolina Hurricanes
- Houston Oilers –> Tennessee Oilers –> Tennessee Titans
- Kansas City Scouts –> Colorado Rockes –> New Jersey Devils
In other instances, the team moves but keeps a name that is irrelevant to its new location. (As a non-basketball fan, it gives me satisfaction to point out that basketball owners are particularly dimwitted in this regard.)
- New Orleans Jazz –> Utah Jazz
- Minneapolis Lakers –> Los Angeles Lakers
- Atlanta Flames –> Calgary Flames
Joining the Tennessee Oilers/Titans in the non-relocation-name-change dep’t, the Washington NBA franchise changed its name from the “Bullets” to the “Wizards” in 1997 because of DC’s rising murder rate. Perhaps it’s time for the NFL team to do the same.
My father-in-law, Joe (o.b.m.), grew up in Pekin, IL. The town was so named, according to legend, because the founder’s wife thought that the town was exactly antipodal to Peking, China (sometimes spelled as “Pekin” in English). In keeping with that spirit, Pekin Community High’s sports teams were known from the 1930s as “the Chinks.” The name was finally changed in 1980, eight years after Joe graduated.
Strangely, the NFL team based in the DC area (for which Gregg Easterbrook has coined the moniker, “Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons”) has not changed its name, thirty-six years after the Pekinites came to their senses. If you have to tell your six-year-old not to say the name of the team, it’s probably time that “Washington Redskins” went the way of “Pekin Chinks.”