Now THIS Is An Offensive Team Name

The London, Ontario independent baseball team has decided to rename itself “The London Rippers.”

Jack's last victim: a logo, perhaps?

The city’s mayor has expressed concerns about the name, and good for him. This isn’t a manufactured political correctness complaint, based on the dubious logic that it demeans a group to honor it with an athletic team name. This is the opposite: a team name that honors a serial killer who disemboweled poor women in the slums of London in 1888. Misogyny isn’t cute or funny, and anyone who thinks that making Jack the Ripper a team symbol is anything but one more outrage perpetrated against his pathetic victims but gets indignant over the Atlanta Braves has his head on upside-down and backwards.

Now, I suppose it’s possible that an association of serial killers will protest that the name “London Rippers” dehumanizes them and puts them in the same category with lions, tigers and bears. In such an eventuality, I would side with the associations of lions, tigers and bears protesting that the name denigrates them. Sportswriting lawyer Craig Calcaterra, a sharp baseball mind whose NBC column alerted me to this story, somehow misses the point by a mile, writing:

“…Jack the Ripper did his work, like, 130 years ago. Murder is murder and it’s always awful, but at what point has enough time passed to where this kind of thing isn’t a problem?  And yes, I note the mayor’s nod to ending violence against women, but does a reference to a 19th century British serial killer who is more often fictionalized today than dealt with in his brutal reality really undermine those laudable aims?
I’m not saying it’s 100% fabulous. But really, kids were singing about Lizzie Borden taking an axe and giving her mother 40 whacks within a few years of that going down. Is it really too soon to be able to use a  long-dead historical figure as a mascot? There are a bunch teams called “crusaders” and the crusades were brutal. We still have Chief Wahoo around, and you can make an argument that the thinking behind that mascot (i.e. Indians are somehow less-than-human) represented way more death and destruction than anything Jack the Ripper did.”

Ugh. How many rationalizations are in this passage? Playground chants about Lizzie Borden (or the Black Plague, which is what “Ring around the rosey” is about) are not remotely comparable to naming a community’s baseball team after a serial killer. Playground refrains don’t become part of a community’s identity, and they don’t in any way bestow prestige on the dark subjects of their rhymes. Teams named after crusaders, warriors, braves and pirates don’t aspire to honor the deaths caused by these groups, any more than teams are named the Lions or Tigers because they have mauled people, or the Cardinals and Orioles are so named because the birds poop on our heads. There one reason, and only one, Jack the Ripper is famous. He slit the throats of desperate prostitutes and dissected them,: in the case of Mary Kelly, he minced his victim, leaving her internal organs on her night table. The London Ripper sent body parts of one victim to police, and taunted them. He didn’t possess a single admirable quality to justify a connection to a sports team, unless there are professional misogyny, mayhem or maniac leagues somewhere.

And Craig’s argument that is an expiration date on the offensiveness of trivializing tragedy is the worst of all. Seriously, Craig? So Penn State can call its wrestling team “the Molesters” in 100 years or so? What he’s really endorsing is ignorance. Kids who chant about the bubonic plague don’t realize it, and neither do their parents. That a lot of people don’t know the truth behind all the fictional Jack the Ripper tales is an argument for enlightening them, not pretending that killing prostitutes is just fun and games.

The mayor of London is right, Craig  is wrong, and if there ever was an inappropriate and harmful  team name, the London Rippers is it.

12 thoughts on “Now THIS Is An Offensive Team Name

  1. Really? Who even came up with the idea of that name. It’s not even a good joke. I can understand to a degree the team nicknames being offensive. The Irish may even have a problem with being stereotyped with the logo of the fighting Irish. My heritage of the Vikings I think could be misunderstood like the Indian mascots. I perceive the pride that these logos represent. I see the contributions that the American Natives and Scandinavian Vikings have made through other parts of their cultures aside from the often misunderstood warrior stereotypes that some people have. I know most people don’t see it that way, but that is the way I perceive these logos.

    A high school down the road from where I grew up had the nickname Blossoms. They often call themselves the “Awesome Blossoms”. The town was Blooming Prairie, so the nick name is understood. I wouldn’t want to be an athlete associated with a flowery name like that. But it is better than being known as a “Ripper”.

  2. I agree that the Rippers is an inappropriate name for a team, but then, logically, why is it acceptable to call a team the Pirates or the Buccaneers? I agree that teams named after pirates do not aspire to honour the deaths caused by pirates, but I doubt that the London Rippers aspire to honour the deaths caused by Jack the Ripper. I suspect the owner is just trying to be funny and attract some publicity.

    I don’t have a problem with naming a team after pirates, but I don’t really know why. For some reason, our society (myself included) has come to see pirates as somewhat comic and harmless (they even have their own operetta) despite the fact that they are incredibly brutal and are the common enemy of humankind.

    • The pirate occupation is plundering, not necessarily murdering, so there’s some safety in using the name.

      Avalanche’s don’t always kill people and it’s a force of nature. So, Hurricanes, Tsunami’s, Earthquakes, and Tornadoes should be okay as well.

      Animals are acceptable, apparently, so Raptors are okay.

      • Right now, the pirate occupation seems to be hostage taking, sometimes ending in murder when naval forces look like they might attempt a rescue.

        • Pirates are the closest to a group honored by team nicknames and yet dishonorable…but they are also celebrated for their competitive qualities, bravery, “swash”—and they are a better object of Calcaterra’s defense logic, too. Pirates do have a distinct, whimsical fictional/pop culture image that is not villainous: Jack Sparrow, Cat. Hook, Long John Silver, Captain Blood, “The Black Pirate”, “Jack the Black” (Gene Kelly), “The Crimson Pirate” (Burt Lancaster), the Dread Pirate Roberts. And while pirates had (and have) victims, we don’t attach a specific named victims to them, so they can be referenced without trivializing their victims.

          • I know what you mean about pirates. I loved pirates and pirate stories when I was young, and often pretended to be one. Popular culture has turned pirates into either dashing swashbucklers or comic villains (or, in the case of Jack Sparrow, both). This romanticized image creates a some dissonance for me when I read in the paper of the latest kidnapping or murder committed by pirates. There is nothing romantic or comic about the pirates of the Horn of Africa. I miss the time when one could look upon pirates as being a part of history.

    • Without his victims, Jack the Ripper would have just been another Jack—you know, like me. His victims are 1) known and namable 2)we have pictures of them and 3) the entire reason he is (in)famous. What else are you celebrating with Jack the Ripper, other than the fact that he killed? Can you imagine Disney building a cheery rid called “The Ripper of London?”

      Yo ho, Yo ho!
      A ripper’s life for me!
      I stab em, I slice em, I rip out their throats
      I take their wombs out yo ho!
      I slice out their kidneys to mail to the screws
      All bad and bloody Yo Ho!

      I don’t think so.

      • The victims of pirates have names too. A recent tragedy involved the deaths of four hostages at the hands of Somali pirates. You can see their names and pictures here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41715530/ns/world_news-africa/t/four-american-hostages-killed-somali-pirates/#.TsXG0sMsHAM. While this murder is not the only reason why pirates are infamous, that crime, along with kidnapping and robbery at sea go a long way towards creating the pirate legend that is so celebrated today.

        While I doubt that Jack the Ripper will ever be Disneyfied, he has already become a popular legend. Jack the Ripper tours seem to be a popular tourist attraction in London, and they advertise the opportunity to follow in his trail of killings and to see Victorian photographs of his victims. His story has become a popular background for whodunit mysteries, as if he were just another stock villain like Moriarty of Mr. Hyde. They even played with his name in Dr. Strangelove for the purposes of comedy. While you and I might not approve, it does seem as if the passage of time has dulled the brutal reality of Jack the Ripper’s crimes.

  3. OK.take it easy its a name how come no one questions The Buffalo Bills, or how many people die a year from Hurricans? Yet Corlina isnt under perssure about there name. its been a long time since these murders and words change, Gay no longer means happy and rip and jack are common baseball terms.

    • 1. Because the Buffalo Bills refer to a historical character that the fictional killer happened to be nicknamed after? You really don’t see a key distinction there? I have NEVER heard anyone make a connection between the NFL team and “Silence of the Lambs.” In the case of the London Rippers, the connection is intentional.
      2. Duh. But Hurricanes are not used as names BECAUSE they kill people….like tigers and bears. I discussed this.
      3. London Ripper still means Jack the Ripper, who still equates to “serial killer of women” and nothing else. Your analogies are non sequiturs.

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