Another Perspective

Beware of Redskins on Pennsylvania Avenue

So many teams, so many misbegotten mascots.

By 10.31.13

As long as everyone is kicking around the idea of getting rid of the Washington Redskins’ moniker as offensive to Native Americans and others (while we’re at it, how about ticket “scalpers”?), it’s time to seriously reconsider other team names that seem, if not actually outmoded or offensive, downright confusing, inept, or silly.

Let’s start with those confounding “Redskins.” When was the last Indian, “brave,” or “chief” glimpsed in Washington, D.C., or, for that matter, in downtown Cleveland, Atlanta, or Kansas City? Why not rename the Redskins the Washington Pigskins, or to be more relevant, maybe the Pork Barrelers? Better still, just bring back the old Senators, twice as scary as any Indian.

The Pittsburgh Steelers is historically accurate, likewise the Miami Marlins, San Francisco 49ers, Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Pistons, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints (though in New Orleans, “Sinners” seems more relevant), Boston Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, Colorado Rockies, Green Bay Packers, and New York Knicks -- i.e., Knickerbockers, also the original name of the Yankees. But Yankees is really more of a New England term and should be reserved for Boston teams. How about the New York Radicals, Urbanites, or Liberal Elitists?

But what exactly is a Cincinnati “Red”? An Oakland “A”? A New York “Met”? A Washington “National” (or worse, a “Nat”?). A Los Angeles “Clipper” or a Los Angeles “Laker”? Even when the Lakers were in Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, was anybody there ever called a laker who was not a basketball player?

The shorthand terms for some of those original names made sense -- Red Stockings, Athletics, Metropolitans -- but many mascot names are totally obscure or misleading. What the heck is a Utah “Jazz”? (And shouldn’t it be the Tabernacle Choristers?) The Diamondbacks is a nice little pun but do you really want a snake for a baseball club image? May as well call your team the Rats or the Cockroaches.

Furthermore, what part do cubs, bulls, and bears play in Chicago history and culture? Chicago Cows, yes, but grizzly bears and rampaging bulls are not normally seen on Michigan Avenue. And what about those marauding pirates in Pittsburgh, not to mention its fearsome Penguins. When did rams last roam St. Louis? I never realized lions and tigers were indigenous to Detroit or Bengals to Cincinnati (and is that Bengal tigers or lancers?). What are Dodgers dodging in L.A. -- limos? agents? Do cardinals flock to St. Louis, and even if they do, so what? Are these like swallows returning to Capistrano? And why Giants in San Francisco, where most of its residents are of normal height.

I’m for banning all sports teams named for birds -- orioles, ravens, sea hawks, falcons, blue jays. It’s clear that when major teams ran out of fierce animals they were forced to turn to allegedly menacing birds for inspiration (uh-oh -- here come those fighting orioles!... Look -- up in the sky! It’s a plane,! It’s a super man! No, it’s a blue jay!).

I would suggest a few alternative handles: the Chicago Butchers, Mobsters or Wind-Chill Factors, the Detroit Debt Collectors, the Los Angeles Phonies or Wheeler Dealers, the Seattle Coffee Sippers or Micro-chippers, the San Francisco Wackos or Social Networkers.

I am badly stuck trying to find suitable names for Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Cleveland teams. The Pittsburghers might work (sort of like Philadelphia Phillies), but what animal, vegetable, or mineral associated with Cleveland, Cincinnati, or Atlanta is likely to strike fear into opponents’ hearts? The Atlanta Peaches is about the best I can do, but only for a woman’s team, if maybe a tad too cute. Cleveland has long had serious moniker problems, absurdly overreaching with Buccaneers and Cavaliers; Tampa Bay also claims to harbor “Buccaneers” (a word not even heard anywhere except in sports sections).

Cleveland is historically mascot-impaired, dating back to the Cleveland Browns, named for their onetime owner Paul Brown. That’s the best they could do? This is like naming the Yankees the New York Steinbrenners. And Cincinnati desperately needs a more colorful name than Reds, which says nothing and has political overtones. I was forced to Google “What is Cincinnati famous for?” and the best Wikipedia could come up with was Pete Rose, Jerry Springer, and German cuisine. The Cincinnati Springers has a nice ring but I much prefer the Cincinnati Schnitzels.

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About the Author

Gerald Nachman is the author of Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, Raised on Radio and Right Here On Our Stage Tonight!: Ed Sullivan's America. He is currently working on a book about the great Broadway musical show-stoppers.