The Amend Corner

What’s in a name

By Don Amend
Posted 8/13/20

The COVID-19 virus has hopelessly scrambled the world of sports.

Because of the pandemic, baseball players are playing before crowds of cardboard cutouts instead of real people, and plays are …

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The Amend Corner

What’s in a name

Posted

The COVID-19 virus has hopelessly scrambled the world of sports.

Because of the pandemic, baseball players are playing before crowds of cardboard cutouts instead of real people, and plays are cheered or booed with recorded crowd noise. Not only that, but the two-league structure of the major leagues has been abandoned and replaced by three regional leagues. NBA basketball has all the teams playing at one location, also without real people in the stands. The NFL insists that their teams will play a full schedule of 17 games, and there will be no fans in attendance for those games either.

Perhaps the absence of actual football games is why so much has been written about one football team’s abandonment of a tradition, dropping their team totem and with it, their name. So the Washington Redskins are no more, a casualty of the increased attention Americans are just now paying to racism in America.

Personally, I think it’s a change that is long overdue. The old totem was insulting to Native Americans. It’s as though Notre Dame University dropped the name Fighting Irish in favor of one of the various derogatory names visited upon real Irish people. And while I’m not easily offended, my German ancestors would likely be offended if a team adopted a mascot dressed in the uniform of an SS officer and called themselves the Krauts.

Of course, that raises a question about my own background, since the teams I cheered for as a youngster were dubbed the Warriors, and when I entered the gym to watch my friends play basketball or wrestle, I walked across the image of an Indian in full headdress on the floor of the lobby. The junior high teams I cheered were arguably worse. We were the Papooses, and at times I wore a green-and-white stocking cap with a cartoon Native American child on its front.

This use of the papoose is worse than that of a warrior, because warrior is a general term applied to anyone who engages in conflict. It could apply equally to George Patton or Irwin Rommel as much as to Crazy Horse or the Shoshone chief, Washakie, after whom the county in which my high school is located was named. In fact, at one time the high school was officially named Washakie County High School, so the name warrior is natural. This may be why I’m not aware of any pressure to change the totem of the school.

The word papoose, on the other hand, was applied only to Native American children during the years of conflict between his people and mine. That makes it offensive and racist, if only moderately so.

As for the Washington NFL team’s totem, it is definitively racist, and one the team should probably never should have adopted. It’s time they did the decent thing and dropped this symbol that is offensive to so many people.

One thing about this change amuses me: The people who run the Washington team haven’t figured out what to call their team in the future. According to their front office, it might be 12 to 15 months before they have a new name.

That seems like a long time to me. I’ve given names to two kids, three dogs and several cats over the years, and I don’t think all the time I took coming up with those names added up to more than a day or two. However, my experience with the kids’ names tells why these football people want to spend some time replacing their team name. They have to be careful, because if they pick the wrong name, somebody or group of somebodies will likely find fault with it, and they would be right back where they started.

I learned back in this back in 1971, when we named our daughter Erica. My wife’s Uncle Fred, a kind-hearted bachelor farmer, thought that name was terrible. He was convinced that we had given her a strange name that the other kids would make fun of. He even sent us a newspaper article that reported on some academic’s research that he thought supported his opinion and suggested a nickname to avoid the problem. The poll had found that kids did make fun of kids who had funny names. However, it was only a problem for boys. Girls with funny — that is, different — names actually benefited from their unusual names. Anyway, we had already named the kid, so it was too late to change it.

The Washington team has to be careful, too, because it wouldn’t do to replace a name that offends a lot of people with another name that offends a lot of other people. That means doing some careful market research find an innocuous name. But it can’t be too innocuous, because a football team’s name needs to be scary — conveying a tough image that promises to stomp on all the other teams, whatever their names are. Finding such a name isn’t easy.

I was going suggest a few names for them to consider, but this essay is long enough, and besides, they wouldn’t take my suggestion anyway. Still, I think I know a name that may arouse terror among their opponents, and it would fit a team located in the District of Columbia perfectly.

How about calling them the Washington Politicians?

The Amend Corner

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