The name game – political correctness spoils sport

Richard Connor 


Finally, our nation has turned its undivided attention on Washington. Many among our citizenry want change. And they want it now. “Change the name of the Washington Redskins,” they are demanding. And just like a Hollywood script, North Texas stepped to center stage for the football matchup of the decade. It was better than last month’s 49-42 shootout between the Texas A&M Aggies and the Alabama Crimson Tide. On Sunday, we hosted the Political Incorrectness Bowl: Cowboys vs. Redskins. Was this sports poetry, or what? If it were an old Western movie, we’d have heroic John Wayne taking on a tribe of white actors dressed up to look like Native Americans. In that pre-multiplex, pre-PC era, of course, the cowboys were the good guys and they always won.

Historians nowadays tend to side with the Indians, and society’s newfound sensitivity to the injustices suffered by Native Americans is why sports teams with Indian nicknames or mascots have come under fire. Actually, “cowboy” has not always been a word associated with “the good guys.” It can be a pejorative term when it’s used to demean someone as a reckless swashbuckler who ignores conventional wisdom and plays by his own rules. Remember when his critics routinely dismissed President George W. Bush as “a real cowboy?”

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Sort of describes the caution-to-the-wind quarterbacking of Tony Romo, come to think of it. The Cowboys’ “cowboy.” Movies and pass interceptions aside, the Redskin name-change flap was evidence that, when pressed, Americans have their priorities in order. They will not be detoured by minor distractions such as a federal government in shutdown mode or the country’s new health plan failing before it starts. Unlike most controversies in Washington, though, the name-change issue was resolved almost as quickly as it began. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder simply said he’s not changing the name. Argument settled. Over and out. We can only wish that President Barack Obama had Snyder’s grit and decisiveness. Obama, as it happened, told the Associated Press that if he owned the Redskins he would “think about” changing the name. While Obama was thinking, Snyder was borrowing a page from the playbook of Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones. He bought the team. He owns the team. He can call it anything he durn well pleases.

“Durn” is a cowboy term, by the way – as in, “That durn mule kicked me in the …” I guess Snyder could have considered adopting the vacated name of Washington’s long-lost baseball franchise, the Senators. The Washington Senators, most Texans recall, were relocated by owner Bob Short to Arlington and promptly renamed the “Texas Rangers.” Short sold the team to the late Brad Corbett, who made baseball and the team exciting. It was such a boring team when it arrived in Texas that there were reports of Short falling asleep while watching it play. He reportedly blamed narcolepsy. Others suggested cocktails. Most agreed that the team lacked excitement. Corbett changed all that. The name change helped but so did the hiring of a reckless “cowboy” named Billy Martin as manager and the subsequent arrival of many other colorful characters. They made sports fun. Today we get sidelined, if you’ll excuse the term, by issues such as team nicknames and mascots that some folks find socially unacceptable.

If Snyder ever considered renaming his team “the Senators,” he probably dropped the idea when he realized that the players would argue and disagree so much in the huddle that they might never be able to line up and run a play. Anyway, he has dispatched the matter. If the fans don’t like his decision they have choices: Patriots. Giants. Cardinals. Rams. Eagles. Saints. Jets. Texans. Cowboys. Vegans will have to avoid the “Packers.” Animal rights folks will buck “Broncos.” And bird watchers and ornithologists, as well as Edgar Allen Poe fans, might find “Ravens” hard to swallow as a rooting interest. I have some personal experience with the complexities of changing a team’s nickname, having played on a college football team called the “Hillsdale Dales.” This was back in the 1960s and, as some may remember, it was a time of social and political upheaval – a time when the youth of America began challenging the establishment. The radicals on our campus rose up. They called for a student body meeting to protest the name “Dales,” for the good reason that no one knew what a “Dale” was.

I was drawn to the meeting not because I was on the football team but for entertainment value. I was disappointed. There were no fireworks, no lively, spirited debate. In fact, only a handful of students showed up for the meeting. Most everyone agreed that the team’s name was incomprehensible. A few lone voices spoke about tradition and history. But even they could not define a “Dale.” Coming up with a mascot was even more difficult. Someone proposed “Chargers,” with no other serious alternatives. There may or may not have been a vote. Shortly after the meeting, the school president made the announcement: “Dales” were out and “Chargers” were in. Then, as now, life went on. The team won and lost at about the same rate as when it was gloriously and mysteriously called the “Dales.” The moral of the story, as any Dallas Cowboys fan will testify: a Washington Redskin by any other name is still …. a Washington Redskin.

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