Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Sports Commentary - Mascots don't Bite

Here's my column for this week.

Mascots don't bite

By Spc. Ian Boudreau

The NCAA decided last week to ban the use of any team mascots or nicknames deemed "hostile or abusive" to American Indians in its postseason tournaments, and has named 18 teams whose insignia must change.

Included are the Florida State Seminoles and the Illinois Fighting Illini, who will have to alter their logos, mascots, and nicknames or be ineligible for tournament competition.

Now, I can get behind changing hostile or abusive names, but so far, I haven't actually seen any. So far, all I've seen are just plain names.

In fact, the Seminole tribe of Florida passed a resolution supporting Florida State's use of the name, and while other Seminole tribes around the country disagree, it's hard to see how the mere usage of the name "Seminoles" counts as either hostile or abusive.

I read in Tuesday morning's USA Today the opinions of several readers who were slightly confused with the NCAA's ruling on team names, including one who asked where the line might be drawn if names like Illini and Seminoles are offensive. He suggested that the NCAA should examine names like Notre Dame's "Fighting Irish," since it stereotypes Irish immigrants as compulsive brawlers.

Think beyond the NCAA to all the professional team names that might eventually have to change. The Oakland Raiders, for example: we can't go around stereotyping people as a bunch of lawless marauders. Even the team's logo has crossed sabers and a player wearing an eye-patch. As if all pirates wore eye-patches! That's blatant stereotyping!

Or how about the Minnesota Vikings? Much of Minnesota was settled by Scandanavians, but I've yet to hear complaints about how the state's NFL team has slighted the region's settlers by portraying them all as blond-haired, bearded warriors who wear horned helmets and slaughter Christians.

And if simply using the name of a specific group of people counts as hostile, then the Boston Celtics will have to change, since the term clearly refers to Irish, Scottish, and Welsh people.

So would the San Francisco 49ers: obviously, a reference to a very specific socio-economic group of 1849 gold prospectors who had a place in California history. The New York Giants and Yankees would both have to alter their imagery, since both are names of actual groups of people, and therefore must be hostile and abusive.

In hockey, we'd be without the Vancouver Canucks -- a slang term for Canadians, and we certainly can't have that.

I don't want to be termed racially insensitive, but I think perhaps that the NCAA's current standard is a bit hypersensitive.

The point is that teams aren't named after things people hate or despise. Ever hear of a team called the Las Vegas Vermin? How about the Seattle Slugs? One of the few things I harbor hatred for are spiders, and I've never seen a team named after one of those.

Far from it -- teams are generally named for animals or groups that exemplify some admirable or loveable quality. The Fort Knox Eagles might not have as much motivation if they were called the Budgies. And I just can't imagine how Florida State fans would cheer if their team was known as the Beach Combers.

Besides, when it comes down to it, team names are just names, and that's all. There are plenty of other, real indignities suffered by minorities to be offended about, so let's take care of those before we worry about the damage college athletic mascots allegedly are doing.


UPDATE: Open Post at Mudville.
UPDATE: A Turret reader wrote in to let me know that the University of Richmond's team is called "The Spiders." I stand corrected. Uhhgg. I hate spiders.