What’s in a Team’s Name?

Whats in a name?
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When William Shakespeare wrote the famous phrase, “What’s in a name?” he had feuding families on his mind. Now, some are using his words to boost the arguments on both sides of the recent renaming push among professional sports organizations.

I understand there is no shortage of team name choices in the world of sports. Some names are more awe-inspiring than others. (My college alma mater has a penguin for a mascot.)

When something goes beyond a misguided name and crosses over into a derogatory remark about a specific group, it stops being a tradition and becomes profitably marketed hate speech.

Being a fan of Cleveland sports for more than four decades, I have had ample experience seeing the Cleveland Indians name and mascot called out as unacceptable. Truth be told, at one time, I was firmly against renaming the team or removing Chief Wahoo. It is comforting to know that growth and change are possible, and I can view the name and symbol as things with the power to impact others negatively.

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Presently, the Washington Redskins are in the spotlight because they walked back the stance that the team name would never change. The announcement came after pressure from Fed Ex (who purchased naming rights to the Redskins home stadium) as well as a group of investment firms. The investors are pushing companies like Pepsi and Nike to halt dealings with the Washington NFL team until a change occurs.

Pressure for a Redskin’s name change is nothing new. A pre-Super Bowl rally in 1992 drew several thousand people who were all united by the idea that the Redskin’s name should change.

It is worth noting that several teams on collegiate and professional levels renamed teams and altered mascots to correct social dissonance.

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-In 1972, the Stanford Indians renamed their team the Cardinal after a group of Native American students expressed the derogatory nature of the name Indians.

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-In 2003, Ole Miss changed their mascot from a quintessential symbol of the old south, a ‘southern gentleman’ named Col. Reb to a bear and now Tony the Landshark.

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-Middle Tennessee State University used students dressed as Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest as sideline mascots. In 1998, MTSU debuted a bright blue horse named Lightning on the sidelines.

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-In 1969, the Golden State Warriors abandoned their Native American symbols in favor of designs that were relevant to California. Likewise, the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves eliminated Chief Wahoo and Chief Noc-A-Homa from merchandise and advertising while retaining their team names.

Presently, fans are speaking out and expressing their opinions about eliminating Native American stereotypes. I’ve heard support, attempted neutrality, and absurd statements like, “If they change the name, I am done with the team.” Bye, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

The current situation is an opportunity to look past ourselves as individuals. The Cleveland Indians don’t offend ME…neither do the Braves, Chiefs, Blackhawks, or Redskins. But mine is not the only point of view.

Those of us who have never experienced ethnic slurs can now learn empathy. This helps you to begin to understand what matters to others. It is enlightening to learn a different point of view and allow yourself to grasp how symbols and names that are innocuous in your eyes are painful and divisive on a larger scale. After looking at things in a different way, decide what matters. If it is still only the name of a team, I pity you.

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