Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday Baseball Post

Old, and boring to most people I suppose, issue: why do we still have team names (Indians, Braves, Redskins) that offend lots of people?

I think of this because of what TNC said this week:
I know there's been a bit of a row over whether people should stop saying the word retarded or not. My basic position is simple--if a name I've been using to describe a broad group, offends that group, I'll stop using it. I think self-naming is sacred. 
What I don't get, really, is the opposing view.  Really; I'm completely baffled by it.  I think that's because for me, this isn't a question of politics.  Instead, it's a question of etiquette.  Every person deserves to be treated politely.  If James asks you not to call him Jimmy, then you don't call him Jimmy.  If he doesn't care, then you do call him Jimmy, if you want.  End of story.

Yes, I've met some people who are a bit precise about it: not Jimmy, not Jim, certainly not Jimbo -- James.  And if they throw too many of those at me, I'll wind up a bit might factor in to whether I want to hang out with the guy or not.  But I'm not going to call him Jimbo.

And so if a group doesn't want to be called Redskins, I'm not going to argue about it.  I'm not going to point out to them that I only mean it with the greatest respect...the greatest respect, obviously, is respecting their wishes.  I'm certainly not going to call a sports team after the name they don't like.

Now, in the event, these things can be hard to actually carry out.  From what I understand, the group in question here are split about whether they are American Indians or Native Americans or tribal peoples or a few other things, or perhaps they're a bunch of different groups who aren't comfortable with any overall name.  I'll try to listen, and try not to insult them by ignoring their preferences, but I may fail.  Hey -- my understanding is that Mormons are Mormons again, after they spent a decade or so as LDS but definitely not Mormons.  Fine; I'll adjust.  If I can handle adjusting to the Los Angeles/California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels, I can handle that.  It's also going to be the case, with groups, that some group members may consider an honor to have a team named after them, and others may consider it an, again, actually carrying these things out can be tricky.  But the motivation here isn't tricky at all: be polite to others.  Because when you're not polite to people, you're not treating them as human beings.  And you don't want to do that, do you?


  1. "Mormons," not Mormans, unless they've made yet another change I hadn't heard about.

    The tricky thing, as you've noted, is who speaks for the group allegedly offended by the name, and what level of consensus there would need to be that it was offensive -- because somebody, somewhere, can be found who is offended by virtually anything (I'm guessing there are people who would argue that the Pittsburgh team should actually be called the "Privateers"). Also, what if a group did use a name for itself in the past, thus rooting it in our history -- like "Indians" -- and is prone to changing its mind every three decades or so about what it wants to be called? Should team names be reviewed periodically to keep up with those changes?

  2. Actually, they aren't split. A sizable majority of natives have no problem with those team names. I used to work at BIA, and a lot of the natives from around the country wore Redskins and Chiefs gear--even those not from the KC or DC areas.

  3. Ugh. Spelling, typing: not my strong point. Fixed. Thanks.

    On the substantive point (to Anon 5:04),

    It's etiquette. You do your best to call people what they want to be called, end of story. We mostly don't find this a problem with individuals in everyday life -- when the kid who was Jimmy decides in high school that he's Jim and in his 20s that he's James, we go along with it. When people change their last name upon getting married (and perhaps again after divorce, and/or a second marriage), we go along with it, and it's rude not to. Now, with groups it's trickier in practice, because it's hard to handle collective preferences, but the principle is basically the same.

    As far as the empirical question...I've never seen polling on it, although I'd be somewhat surprised if majorities feel OK with "Redskins." When it comes to action on team names, I'd generally put more weight on those who are offended, and err on that side. Are they being overly sensitive? Not my call!

  4. But isn't there one big difference in this from the name using etiquette? That is, at what point does your right to be offended end with my choice of what to call myself?
    For the sports teams, they aren't calling other people that name, they're calling themselves that name. Is this an important difference or not?

    As for the pejorative names, that's also different. When a term is used as a pejorative, I would assume that you're not interested in what the person being called the term thinks of it. And, again, it comes down to people who aren't directly involved in the particular exchange and how much their opinions should affect a dialogue that isn't about them, but involved a pejorative/colloquial name for their group. I'm not saying I have an answer one way or the other; I just think the issue is a heck of a lot more complex than simple etiquette.

  5. One doesn't generally refer to a native American person as a "redskin." They used to! And not in a good way! I guess some people would be offended if a team named itself the Washington "Honkies." Or the Washington "White Man." The Cleveland "European Immigrants." A good proportion of Caucasians, I imagine, would laugh it off, but it would be kind of a distasteful name for a team, in polite conversation.

    Other teams have updated their names from archaic slurs, and why shouldn't the 'Skins. Actually, maybe Skins would be a better name. As to where the actual point is where people cease to have the right to be offended and you have the right to call your sports franchise whatever the hell you please, I can't really say. Or more probably, there isn't a measurable point.

    I'm with Jonathan, here, with the good taste and good manners. Yes, even you football fans. That means you, too. That's right, good taste and good manners.

  6. First off, the Redskins term comes from the natives themselves. The first recorded use of it was from a midwestern chief in DC to sign a treaty. This came out in the latest federal lawsuit against the name.

    As for polling, this is from 04 and 05, but I think the results speak for themselves:

    Only 9 percent of those polled said the name of the NFL team is “offensive,” while 90 percent said it’s acceptable, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Survey, released Friday.

    Indeed, a recent SI poll suggests that although Native American activists are virtually united in opposition to the use of Indian nicknames and mascots, the Native American population sees the issue far differently. Asked if high school and college teams should stop using Indian nicknames, 81% of Native American respondents said no. As for pro sports, 83% of Native American respondents said teams should not stop using Indian nicknames, mascots, characters and symbols. Opinion is far more divided on reservations, yet a majority (67%) there said the usage by pro teams should not cease, while 32% said it should.

    Thats not even close imo.

  7. All well and good. The name "Redskins" is kind of lame, though, in this day and age, no? Hence 'Skins.

  8. I really dislike the weird haughty self-righteous tone of both Jonathan and TNC here. You can't moralize away the need for people to turn terms like idiot, moron, etc into taunts, and you can't wish away the decades of tradition behind Redskin and so on. In the first case, it's impossible to invent a term for people of low intelligence that couldn't be turned into a taunt, and in the second case, those team names are generally benign relics of a different time, but relics that have accrued a lot of *meaning* for the people who follow those teams. In any other arena, the attempt to wish away human nature or ignore authentic and valid impulses by well-meaning people would not be so easily dismissed. Why here?

    Also I would point out that if the rule is "people always get to name themselves," then why wouldn't that apply to the Redskins? Naming yourself Redskin is qualitatively different from calling someone else a retard. Surely that's obvious?

  9. Reading it over, I got a little bollixed up there. I suppose the first graf should actually end, "would rightly be quickly rejected. Why not here?"


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