Monday, September 11th, 2006
If you were the owner of a major league sports team, how would you decide what to name it? There are many considerations: city history, fan base, and an image that intimidates opponents (but nothing so fierce as to reduce marketability).
Some of the best team names had a fortunate confluence of culture and mascot: Baltimore’s foreboding Raven pulled from Edgar Allen Poe, or Scandinavian heritage brought to life in the pillaging (just not in Super Bowls) Minnesota Vikings.
When team owners decidet to move to a new city, their mascost often lose relevance. Thus, we are left with perplexing names like the Utah Jazz or L.A. Lakers. But some cities such as Cleveland are more far-sighted. Cleveland held on to rights to the Browns football name, even as Art Modell was moving the team to Baltimore.
Then there are annual battles over political correctness. The Atlanta Braves have their tomahawk chop and DC has its Redskins, a favorite target of the Washington Post:
This is not a new issue, nor is it the first time we have urged the change of a name that, as a check with the dictionary shows, is a racial slur. In the early 1990s, a group of Native Americans sued over the name, citing federal law prohibiting the registration of any trademark that disparages any race, religion or group. There’s been new activity in this challenge, and once again the Redskins are on the defensive, advancing the argument that since the team and its fans don’t intend to be racist, the nickname is not offensive.
…(But) it really is not up to the offender to characterize the nature of the offense.
It was in the paralyzing grip of political correctness that Washington renamed its basketball team the Wizards after the Washington Bullets became a self-fulfilling prophesy in the mid 1990s.
Many teams have steered well clear of controversy by naming their teams after something in the neighborhood. The Colorado Rockies and Phoenix Suns team owners seem only to have walked out onto their front porches to come up ideas. The Washington Nationals isn’t particularly ambitious, either. Statastico always favored something along the lines of the Washington Bureaucrats, or the Beltways Bandits. But that’s why I probably don’t own any major league sports teams.
Finally, there are the team names that stick out as historic oddities: teams named after folks dodging street cars, packers of meat, or brewers of beer. Those are the most appropriate team names. If not for the people honored by those teams, how else would we spend a lazy Sunday?