Another Vote For “The Washington Code Talkers”

The Washington Redskins ownership finally was forced to capitulate in the decades long- battle to force a beloved and fanatically supported NFL team to ditch the name that fans were beloving on the dubious theory, rejected by most native Americans and people capable of  critical thought, that despite all outside appearances having a team carrying a  Native American name dishonors Indians rather than keeps their story up front and vital in American consciousness and culture. Because the decision was a sudden biproduct of the George Floyd Freakout, the D.C. team wasn’t prepared for a change, and had no names in reserve. (It apparently had a shot at the name “Warriors,” which alliterates at least, but was late moving on the copyright and trademarks, so that name has, as they say, left the wigwam.

Meanwhile, gag names are flying around like arrows at the Little Big Horn, so ending the mockery is urgent. We are hearing calls for the Washington Weasels, the Washington Swamp-Dwellers, the Washington Investigators, the Washington Slime, The Washington Bootlickers…even the retro “Washington Murderous Savages.”  (I was an early advocate for “The Washington Concussions.”) However, one serious suggestion offered by the President of the Navajo Nation Jonathan Nez is brilliant: the Washington Code Talkers.

I second, with enthusiasm.

Few professional sports team have nicknames carrying any historical significance. Most are generic animals, birds, even reptiles. Some of the oldest names are meaningless, like “Red Sox.” Just a few refer to or referenced history: the now defunct Chicago Fire, the San Francisco 49’ers, the Philadelphia 76ers, and a few others. One great virtue of the Code Talkers, in addition to keeping the Native American connection to the D.C. team, is that it would compel the team’s fans to learn some history for a change. (I assume that the 2002 Nicholas Cage bomb, “Windtalkers,” did not have sufficient reach to educate most Americans.)

Who, or what,  were the Code Talkers? Continue reading

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.  Continue reading

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.