It is a sad reflection on modern society that there exists a large body of humanity that have made it their business to find things at which to take offense. Ironically, however, those who are often so outraged at examples of politically incorrect speech are, apparently, offended on behalf of a particular ethnic, religious or other group, whose members are themselves not particularly offended – or not offended at all. Sports teams, which traditionally have nicknames referring to animals or certain ethnic or tribal groups, have become primary targets of the speech-police. Do you agree that their nicknames are truly offensive, however?
Native Americans – who more often refer to themselves as ‘Indians’ – are alleged to be the most slighted ethnic group. There are, however, American Indians who are proud to identify with teams that bear names which honor, as they see it, their ethnic traditions. This author has a very good friend who, as a pure-blood American Indian, chose to become a Washington Redskins fan precisely because of the team nickname. Moreover, he swore that, should the team give up that nickname, he would no longer support them.
The truth is, of course, that such nicknames were chosen to honor such groups or tribes; these names were intended to imbue the team in question with the most admirable qualities of the group or tribe – just as teams who take the names of animals aspire to reflect the strengths of that animal; The Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars chose their names in order to assume the speed, fearlessness and aggressive nature of their respective big cats.
Other team nicknames also demonstrate the fact that nicknames are chosen to honor – and identify with – certain groups; the New England Patriots did not choose their name to offend the patriotic spirit; Notre Dame is not known as the ‘Fighting Irish’ to slight the inhabitants of the Emerald Isle; The New York Yankees are not attempting to denigrate inhabits of the northern US states.
Similarly, teams who have taken nicknames referring to native peoples or tribes did so to reflect the best qualities of those tribes; the fierce, warrior spirit is what is being honored and – one could argue – vicariously relived: The Atlanta Braves being a perfect example.
The Washington Redskins once again find themselves at the center of a fabricated controversy, regarding their nickname: The fact that the name refers directly to a false perception of the skin-color of natives is what is supposed to offend, apparently. This author would argue that the majority of American Indians do not waste their time thinking about such things and are, rightly, not in the least offended; those who are probably need to find more constructive ways to spend their time and would do well to reflect that their own communities have more important issues to deal with, whether those issues are of their own making or inflicted upon them through years of second-class treatment.
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Graham J Noble