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The Redskins are Officially Changing Their Name. Is The Tail Wagging The Dog?

What's in a name? Judging from intensifying rancor and debate over the use of sports team nicknames some people deem offensive, a lot of passion, loyalty, anger, controversy, and personal pride are all encompassed in some more than others.

The recent spate of monument defacement, statue destruction, and other forms of vandalism aimed at public landmarks has renewed efforts to remove or replace some sports team nicknames deemed offensive.

It has also revived debate over how far amateur and professional sports franchises alike should go to placate people and groups offended by certain team names, as well as how far is too far to go.

Current societal practice appears to cowtow and bow to any bellicose basement blogger who's upset about the use of otherwise unassuming and neutral terms like black sheep, back coffee, or Black Friday.

If this Orwellian trend of throwing out the fetus with the bathwater and erasing any word or phrase that strikes anyone as politically incorrect out of existence continues unabated, we'll be left with a dictionary the size of an Archie and Jughead comic book (which is probably considered racist, sexist, ethnocentric, misogynistic, and micro aggressive by today's unrealistic standards anyway).

While two professional sports franchises in particular -- the Washington Redskins of the National Football League and the Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball -- have been lightning rods for the ongoing nickname controversy, it isn't just limited to the pro level.

Postgraduate institutions like Stanford University, the University of Illinois, the University of North Dakota, Florida State University, the University of Hawaii, the College of William and Mary, and locally Husson University (formerly Husson College) have all addressed potential or eventual mascot and/or nickname changes, primarily due to requests from Native Americans and Native American organizations requesting them.

Not even high schools and middle schools are immune to the long arm of political correctness. Most high schools in Maine have discarded their "Indian-inspired" nicknames (Redmen, Braves, Indians, Redskins, etc.) over the last 15 years. Only Skowhegan, with its Indians mascot, stood alone with a Native American-themed nickname, but the Skowhegan school board voted to retire the name in March of 2019. The search for a suitable replacement nickname is still ongoing.

In the cases of Stanford, William and Mary, North Dakota and Husson, the names and/or mascots were replaced. Stanford went from calling its teams the Indians to the Cardinals in 1972, and then tweaked the name once more to "Cardinal" in 1981 to avoid confusing the color -- which is what the name represents -- with the birds.

William and Mary went from the Indians to The Tribe in the 1990s in order to satisfy a National Collegiate Athletic Association edict requiring member universities to drop all Native American names not sanctioned by official Native American organizations.

North Dakota's name change process was much more protracted, hard fought, and bitterly opposed. Originally known as the Flickertails until 1930, the Fighting Sioux name was retired in 2012 after a seven-year legal battle with the NCAA. The Sioux nickname was dropped only after one of two main Sioux tribes in North Dakota refused to sanction the school's use of the name. It took three years, but UND finally adopted Fighting Hawks as a new name in 2015.

Husson adopted its current Eagles nickname in 2004 after school officials autonomously decided to end a 40-year run as Braves out of respect to local Native American tribes. Before that, the school's extracurricular and sports teams had gone by Indians and Penmen.

Hawaii's name change was unique in that it was inspired not by objections from Native American groups, but by some members of the school's sports teams themselves, and the change affected some, but not all of the school's varsity programs. Because the "Rainbow Warriors" nickname was seen as at least reminiscent or partially affiliated with the gay and lesbian community, some student-athletes were less than enthusiastic about being identified in such a way, so the school revamped its rainbow block letter "H" into a monochrome green "H" and let each of its teams select its mascot name.

Thus, in 2000, the football team was known as the Warriors, the basketball teams went by Rainbow Warriors, and the baseball team picked the Rainbows.

Then there were the schools that persevered and kept their Native American-inspired names, most notably among them the Utah Utes, Illinois Fighting Illini, Central Michigan Chippewas, Florida State Seminoles, and Mississippi College Choctaws. All these schools won appeals to the NCAA by citing and showing positive relationships with neighboring Indian tribes.

Illinois was a notable case in that its Fighting Illini nickname was shown to be originally derived from an old term used interchangeably between Illinois natives and University of Illinois alumni. It was also adapted to refer to state and university men and women who fought overseas in World Wars I and II. While the school nickname didn't change, the logo and mascot did, as Illinois adopted American Indian imagery in the mid 1920's and finally retired its "Chief Illiniwek" mascot in 2007.

Fast forward to modern day, and the debate rages between what adjectives, nouns, and even adverbs are appropriate for use, even if they have no basis or root in race or ethnicity at all.

The Loreal cosmetic company has announced plans to ban ubiquitous words like "white" and "fair" from its entire line of makeup and cosmetics packaging, and advertising icons like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are disappearing from store shelves, thanks to nervous Nellie corporate PR hacks and hypersensitive CEO's.

What's the problem, you may be asking? What's wrong with erring on the side of sensitivity and sparing peoples' feelings?

1. Why is a country whose basic foundation is rooted in democracy allowing the tail to wag the dog? Why does the vocal 5% (and that figure may be charitably higher than reality) dictate policy and actions over the quiet 95%?

2. When is it enough? At what point do we stop trying to sanitize, whitewash (oops, that word is probably not allowed anymore either), and erase ANYthing that ANYone and this could literally be just one person) finds offensive? 3. At what point does sanity and (un)common sense come back into play?

Here's hoping the tipping point is just around the corner, and calmer and more rational heads prevail. If things progress as hyper-sensitively and unrealistically PC as they currently are, Webster's and Roget's reference books will look more like Cliffs Notes.

Eh, screw them. They were probably both racist, homophobic, chauvinistic louts anyway...

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