Indians, Pirates, Greeks, Intellectual Property, and Political Correctness

The always understated Robert Newton as Long John Silver. You owe his estate a quarter every time you say “Arg!”

Here I am banging my forehead with the palm of my hand for not realizing that all of the rhetoric flying around about how horrible it is that people in the U.S. can get away with denigrating religions would spark yet another round of political correctness applied to team names and mascots. Perhaps this was inevitable when a vestige of an earlier controversy along these lines invaded the Elizabeth Warren-Sen. Scott Brown race: some of Brown’s staff were seen doing the old Atlanta Braves “tomahawk chop” to mock Professor Warren’s beneficial delusion that she is a bona fide Native American. The political correctness police were all over this one, though the logic, as in a lot of political correctness, was strained: doing a famous fake Indian gesture to mock a fake Indian political candidate is an insult to…real American Indians? Even after the real Cherokees have announced that Warren’s pretensions of affirmative-action worthy Native American status is offensive to them? I’m afraid  those who are empowered by being offended are just too creative for me—I don’t get it.

Nor do I get an earnest essay by  Paul Lukas on the ESPN website, titled “Time to Re-think Native American Imagery.” I am on record as believing that the assault on Native American symbols and imagery for school and team names is just more cynical power-mongering by convenient victims, with the exception of the Washington Redskins, the one team with an undeniably racist name that ought to offend everybody. Still, it is obvious that the political correctness thugs will keep chipping away, counting on their persistence and the eventual bureaucratic shrug (“Oh, what the hell—it’s only a name. Let’s just give them what they want!”) to give them a victory–whereupon they will find something else to be offended about. 

Lukas begins by reminding us of recent skirmishes in the ongoing controversy, like the fact that Oregon has banned Native American names and mascots for high school teams. I missed this, and while I guess this kind of thing sneaks under the First Amendment ban on governments restricting free speech, I think it adds some weight to the heavy hand of government censorship in the name of “tolerance,” and brings us a little closer the day when  the police will arrive at your door if  you post a home-made video showing Muhammad doing the macarena. In the same list of updates, Lukas also notes that “a parent in Delaware” asked that a school change its mascot. Yup, that’s all it takes now: one person who is not even a member of the group being supposedly offended, being offended by proxy and launching a headline and inquiry by complaining. How empowering it is to be easily offended! I must try it sometime! (Actually, there was one team name I found offensive that almost nobody else did.)

Lukas tried to avoid the whole offense issue by making this argument:

“I see this as more of an intellectual property issue. Basically, for those of us who aren’t Native American (which basically means the vast majority of the people who reading this), I don’t think we have the right to use images of headdresses, tomahawks, tribe names, and so on. It’s not a question of whether such symbols are offensive, or whether they perpetuate outdated stereotypes; it’s that they don’t belong to us. If a non-Jewish group used a menorah or a Star of David in its marketing, wouldn’t that raise a few eyebrows? Ditto for a non-military group using a Purple Heart. And if those examples don’t pass the smell test, neither does a sports team using Native American iconography.”

This is a crack-brained idea that should be used as a mascot for an all-star team of crack-brained ideas. At a time when we are trying to loosen the strangle-hold of intellectual property law in music, literature, plays, and more in the interest of increased liberty and creative freedom, Lukas wants to tighten it to a mind-boggling extent. So now, in a country that was supposed to be the ultimate melting pot of ethnic and religious cultures to form one, glorious stew of a people who borrow and benefit freely from what each contributing culture brings to the whole, Lukas thinks it’s fair, reasonable and healthy to have such mutual ownership prevented by custom and law. Ridiculous—although, as a Greek-American, it is thrilling to know that I will get a cut of the royalty for every Greek pillar used in a town hall, and can now be offended by the world’s expropriation of the Olympics. Similarly, Lukas’s formula will allow African-Americans  to be officially offended and enriched by white people who presume to play jazz, and Jewish Americans will be able to demand damages any time a Catholic does a Borscht Belt comedy routine. Of course, Native Americans might be annoyed to find that they are expected to pay royalties to the British for performing  or quoting Shakespeare, and “Talk like a pirate day” will be a bonanza for the relatives of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and especially Robert Newton, who wasn’t a pirate but the British actor who invented how pirates talk in movies.

Lukas’s un-American suggestion does have one American feature to it: he presumes that it’s not really about offense but money, and if schools just pay local tribes for the use of their symbols and trappings that should be free anyway, all will be well. It will be well for the lawyers, anyway, once the word gets out that every ethnic group now has perpetual property rights in its traditional styles of dress, music, dance and killing people. Lukas’s whacked-out legal theories had me convinced that he couldn’t possibly be a lawyer, but come to think of it, he might be.

Then Lukas starts tackling arguments against banning Native American names, with dubious rebuttals of common arguments against political correctness, like “I realize the Redskins’ team name is derogatory, but there’s nothing wrong with team names like Braves or Warriors. Heck, a lot of those names were originally meant as tributes!” Lukas counters,

“Maybe there were and maybe they weren’t. Either way, there’s no other ethnic group that’s the subject of these “tributes” in the sports world. Don’t you think it’s better to let Native Americans decide how their culture should be represented?”

Uh, they were and are tributes; there’s no “maybe” about it. People don’t name their sports teams after things and people they don’t admire for one reason or another. Lukas also isn’t thinking very hard: teams with names and mascots like the Spartans and the Trojans have been assailed as offensive, though not by any real Spartans and Trojans. Earlier, Lukas tries to weasel out of the Vikings, Celtics and Fighting Irish problem by making this argument:

“Minnesota was settled by Scandinavian immigrants. So when Minnesotans named their football team the Vikings, they were celebrating themselves. Similarly, Notre Dame is a Catholic university. So when they called their teams the Fighting Irish, they were celebrating themselves. If a Native American school wanted to call its teams the Indians, that would be analogous to the Vikings and Irish. But not when non-Natives do so.”

Weak, Paul. Minnesota was settled by Swedish immigrants, among others, but not the Vikings. There were never Vikings in Minnesota, and the Vikings were Norwegian, not Swedish. To Lukas, all Scandinavians look the same I guess. All Catholics are Irish?  That’s news to me, and news to the half of Ireland that is famously Protestant. Meanwhile, Dartmouth was founded as a school for Native Americans, and still ended up being hounded into giving up its team name,”the Indians.” I would expect an ESPN writer to know that, but then research was invented by the Romans, so maybe he just didn’t want to offend Italians.

As I said, I fully expect that common sense and freedom of expression will lose this battle, and people like Lukas will eventually beat down the opposition and establish the principle that if anyone is offended at anything you say, they can force you to stop saying it because being tolerant means never tolerating anyone who says things that upset you. The battle over Native American team names using offense by proxy is just a warm-up, I bet, but it will set a useful precedent. Native Americans will have achieved their desired censorship without having to threaten to kill anybody, like, say, the Muslims.

That’s progress.


Pointer: Craig Calcaterra


Graphic: Mick Strotton

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at


5 thoughts on “Indians, Pirates, Greeks, Intellectual Property, and Political Correctness

  1. I suppose Elizabeth Warren never wants to be called kemosabe, either.

    People who get offended, offend me. But not because I am offended by what offends them. I am offended, simply because they have become offended and indicated that they have become offended. So now, they owe me (and what they owe, I alone decide), and they’re jerks who don’t deserve another free breath of air or drink of water if they don’t fork it over.

    As for the Redskins, what the hell (literally)? Call ’em the Quds instead, and be done.

    • In follow-up, without sarcasm, I completely agree when you say: “This is a crack-brained idea that should be used as a mascot for an all-star team of crack-brained ideas.” Next thing you know, Mayor Bloomberg, following the idea, will be banning the serving of tacos in McDonalds restaurants.

    • I’ve heard that the Lone Ranger and Tonto parted company, and not amicably, after the Lone Ranger discovered that “kemosabe” is a tribal slang word for “son-of-a-bitch”.

    • Washington Redskins: when I was a kid in DC, everybody said, “We’re just paying ‘tribute’ to those brave Indian warriors.” Okay, a Jonathan Swift idea using that logic. Across the Potomac is Arlingon, VA, now having a population of about 210K. Big enough for its own pro football team. As a mascot, I suggest an African Zulu warrior, complete with spear and shield (and big white eyes and thick red lips).

      Team name? The “Arlington Darkies”. If any PC wimps object, we tell them we are just paying tribute to a band of brave warriors, just like the Redskins.

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