Friday, August 12, 2011

"Defending The (Probably) Indefensible"

I wear a lot of t-shirts. Not all at the same time. Consecutively. I’m not that crazy.

I wear a lot of t-shirts, because one, there is no dress code for the “Not going anywhere.” Two, it’s Southern California, where you can wear pretty much anything you want. (Not just in your house, outside, as well.) Three, it’s generally warm here. And four, I exercise more or less daily, and you don’t really want to hop on the treadmill in a dress shirt. With or without cuff links.

As a result of those four reasons, and probably others that elude me at the moment, I have accumulated, for my everyday use, two dresser drawers full of t-shirts, most of them souvenirs from my travels, tangible memories of fascinating destinations – Ireland, Gettysburg, Northern Indiana – which offer a paralleling service as wardrobe.

On occasion, aware of my affinity for such casual habillements, I am presented with a gift t-shirt from a family member who has returned from distant travels of their own. I am always appreciative of this thoughtful present, though I fear it brings my credibility into question.

“You’re wearing a t-shirt from a place you’ve never been to. How can I trust you about anything?

Okay. So last summer, we were visiting Chicago – on our way home from our cabin in Indiana – and I pick up a t-shirt commemorating the recent Stanley Cup (hockey championship) victory of the local Chicago Blackhawks.

It’s a magnificent t-shirt, modeled after the team uniform. It’s dark black – one of the team colors – and it features as its centerpiece a classic, multi-colored, graphic design.

Of an Indian.

(Wikipedia informs us that the Hawks’ original owner named the team after a military unit he commanded during World War I, the unit itself having been originally named after an Indian. Wikipedia additionally tells us that in 2004, GQ voted the Blackhawks’ uniform one of the 25 best in professional sports. So it’s not like I don’t have taste.)

Okay. Indians as team icons. An issue that pops up on occasion. Though I think it can be generally agreed, that having sports teams named after them is not the Indians’ most serious concern. Still, some people find it offensive.

I, for the most part, do not.

Here comes the inevitable disclaimer. My living room is replete with (Edward Curtis) photographs, paintings, crafts and cultural artifacts, produced by and reflective of


I identify with Indians. They represent a category of people that other people tried to wipe out. I don’t have to spell out the connection.

So there’s that.

But that’s not the issue. The issue is, is it disrespectful to name a sports team, in one variational form or another, after Indians?

The Washington Redskins. That’s pretty much yuckadoodle. But even there…no, I’m not going to defend that. That one really ought to go.

Then, there are the other teams: The Golden State Warriors. The Cleveland Indians. The Atlanta Braves. The Florida State Seminoles.

The Chicago Blackhawks.

To name just five.

Franchises from all the major sports, associating their teams with an Indian motif.


Because they want to disparage Indians?

Why would they want to do that?

“We play hard and demean Indians. ‘Go, Team, go!’”

Does that sound like a winning marketing campaign to you?

Do they name sports teams after Indians to attract more Indian Season’s Ticket holders?

I don’t think so. Do you? That can’t be it.

Which brings us to the distinction, and the only rationalization that would exonerate the Washington Redskins organization from blatant discrimation:


Which is not, even hardliners would probably agree, to discriminate.

Sports teams choose to identify themselves with Indians,

Because Indians are warriors,

Is the underlying thought process. And a reasonable thought process it is. So reasonable, in fact, that I submit that that’s the only thing that’s going on.

The entities choosing the teams’ names’ unquestionable objective is fof their teams to emulate, with every sinew of their being, “warrior characteristics.”



Inner toughness.

And the ability to sneak up behind people without being heard. Well, maybe not that one. But the other attributes for sure. That’s why they name their teams after Indians.

Inculcating combat aggressiveness is the same reason that teams name themselves after certain “warrior animals” – The Lions, The Tigers, The Panthers, The Bears. There is no sports team I know of called The Mice. Similarly, I am not aware of any sports team venerating the Swiss.

“We’re neutral and we’re proud. Go, Team, go!”

I will not here debate whether the characteristics of warriors ought to be idealized. I will only say that sports teams talk about “Going into battle.” In that context, it fits.

I am also aware that not all Indians were, historically, warriors. But you don’t motivate a sports program by calling them the Arizona Rug Weavers.

If I were an Indian, I would be proud that my people were perceived to possess the characteristics that could inspire a sports team to victory.

But I’m not an Indian. So maybe I don’t get to vote. Until there’s a sports team called the Tennessee Jewboys, I’m just a guy on the sidelines, looking good in his Blackhawks t-shirt.


Anonymous said...

This abdominal exercise equipment also comes with a nutrition plan so users can have improved diet as they strengthen and tone their abdominal muscles.

Gnasche said...

In high school (New Braunfels), we were "The Unicorns". Please, explain that one.

GRayR said...

As a graduate of U of Hawaii, I always liked the Rainbow Warriors.

But my favorite is UC Santa Cruz;
the Banana Slugs. On the web site today is the "featured Slug' -Ryan Matsuoka Men's Basketball. How would you like that in your CV? I was once a featured Slug. Actually I get that all the time from my wife. Should have gone to UCSC.

Devon Not Really White said...

Not even fighting Unicorns? Interesting. It is unique.

Certainly, Redskins should have gone just about 5 min. after it was contrived. Now it's part of the lexicon, as the defenders claim.

The rest of the teams named after Indians? I don't see a problem but as you pointed out, we don't get to vote. How's this for even-handedness: The NCAA told the U. of North Dakota that they must change their name - Fighting Sioux - or they won't be allowed to host anymore NCAA tournament events. And I guess that would be quite a lo$$ for the university. The long-running dispute is due for a hearing this very day in Indianapolis (irony insert!). Interesting article here:

The NCAA made no such demand of Florida State. My memory is a little fuzzy, but I believe that the leadership the Seminole Tribe gave FSU the go-ahead to retain the name. The NCAA did make a demand of the Univ. of Illinois, that it discontinue the use of the live mascot - Chief Illini - as they found that disrespectful. I believe the univ. has complied.

Many schools did bow to the NCAA pressure. Marquette is no longer Warriors; St. John's dropped Redmen (as it should have); William & Mary dropped Indians in favor of Tribe; Stanford dropped Indians long, long ago when the issue first came up. To my knowledge, the Univ. of Utah will remain the Utes. Ironically, the Carlisle Indian School - where Jim Thorpe became a star - once had the nickname of Pirates even tho it was a school just for Indians.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will also remain - even if all Irish do not approve. Only the Indians can be hurt by being portrayed as brave and/or fighting warriors.

Finally, there is Whitman College located in Walla Walla, WA.
"Whitman's official mascot, named the 'Fighting Missionary' after Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, is a source of debate, with many student organizations and athletic teams wishing to change it in order to avoid the implied cultural imperialism. However, many alumni are in favor of keeping the unique mascot, which inspired the innuendo-laden cheer "Missionaries, Missionaries, We're On Top!" Current campaigns to change the mascot support the 'Duck', named for the many ducks residing in campus creeks and ponds, as a culturally neutral mascot." (Wikipedia)

Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were 2 of the 13 victims of the Whitman Massacre - wiped out by the Cayuse and Umatilla Indians. Will the irony never stop? (The annual cost of attending Whitman College is just over $52K. That's appropos of nothing, but I can't seem to stop, today...on a little rantz of my own.)

Anonymous said...

As both a Cowboy and a Texan, I am personally taking part in a lifelong boycott of the NFL. And, because I like to think of myself as something of a Maverick, I'm against both the NBA and my alma mater (UT-Arlington).

And, because I'm relatively tall and there have been times in my life when I've had to dodge things, Major League Baseball is on my boycott list, too.

I also have a sympathy boycott against the NHL in conjunction with people from Long Island.

Paul Buchman said...

I too am boycotting - - anonymity and abdominal exercise equipment.

Max Clarke said...

Good post, Earl.

I'm fond of the Ducks. I think it's cool Oregon named their team the Ducks.

Another good name is the minor league baseball team, the Toledo Mud Hens.

There was an episode of Cheers or a movie in which somebody won football bets by examining the names of the teams. For example, the Miami Dolphins were faster than the Dallas Cowboys. Something like that.

Mac said...

Does anyone know where I can find an abdominal exerciser? One that comes with a nutrition plan? I've looked everywhere.

I suppose Indian heritage does lend itself better to team names than Swiss. The Cuckoo Clocks or The Watches don't conjure up the right vibe at all. The Tax Havens?

Sérgio said...

@ Max Clarke, it was indeed an episode of Cheers where Diane Chambers was talking with Sam Malone about that. And she won, not only because of her choice of animals but also because at a certain moment she was asking the colors of their jersey and she stated that some colors would win over other colors which drove Sam insane.

My favorite team (ice hockey) was the Rotterdam Panda's.
Panda's are nice animals, but we had defenders that were real "killers" :-). 24 years have pasted but there is still a body check from one of our heroes that I can vividly remember. I guess they found the other guy back on the moon. ;-)

Later they got a new sponsor and suddenly were called: Turbana Banana Panda's. :-)The original green/white jersey (colors of my city Rotterdam) became a yellow jersey with a banana.

I watch now mostly German ice hockey and of course the NHL! Here in Europe you see a lot of young people on the street with clothes from American teams. Celtics, Bruins, Lakers, Yankees, Redskins, etc.

JED said...

I remember a story in the Reader's Digest a long time ago about a British woman who came to the US and remarked what a wonderful country it was where a group of black men and white men could get together on a team and call themselves Redskins.

I don't agree. I'm waiting for a team to be named the Fighting Taffies (the Welsh). Or maybe the Coal Diggers.

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; how about "The Fighting Maccabees"?