Racisim and Sports’ Names

In regards to Roman Manchester’s letter to the editor (7/22/2005), I believe he was very articulate, but may have missed one element of the issue. Yes, there are sports’ teams named after Native Americans and, yes, there are sports’ teams named after Euro-Americans. The difference is the issue of power.

It is irresponsible to use terms that make disempowered persons uncomfortable. The Washington Redskins are probably the best example of a team name that is insensitive. On the other hand, while the term Yankees does come from the Dutch language, Euro-Americans are so assimilated into society that the term is not offensive. Linguistically, it’s the same reason that African-American or homo-sexual jokes are not funny (they are offensive) while Irish jokes or the proverbial Polish jokes are funny. Of course, there sociological conditions in which humor and team-names can change over time. I would argue that the name Boston Celtics would have been offensive at the time that Boston was awash in NINA (No Irish Need Apply) signs, but now the name is an embracement of the immigration history of Boston.

I believe what people need to keep in mind is that the Boston Celtics are not called the Boston Micks, the New Orleans Saints are not called the New Orleans Frogs, the Green Bay Packers are not called the Green Bay Working Class, the Milwaukee Brewers are not called the Milwaukee Drunks, the San Diego Padres are not called the San Diego Pedophiles, etc. Names can be offensive; sometimes it’s not racial or ethnic: the Washington Bullets decided their name was too insensitive for a city that was often the statistical murder-capital of the country, so they changed their name to the Washington Wizards in 1998 (the same year that the first Harry Potter book was released, a coincidence?).

So yes, the Yankees are a racial term for Euro-Americans and yes, using the phrase “Tribe cut down to size” can be insensitive. Chances are that most English Americans aren’t offended by the term Yankee, but rather see the term as an embracement of their heritage. Similarly, I doubt a Scandinavian-Americans in the Midwest are offended by the term Minnesota Vikings… because they have been sociologically assimilated. Hopefully, some day Native Americans will feel and, in fact, be so assimilated that there will no longer be any questions of insensitivity.

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