What’s in a name?

There are very good reasons to watch football on Saturdays this fall. Yes, I said Saturdays. First, the NCAA plays on Saturdays, and second, the NFL doesn’t. Oh sure, the play is far more polished in the pros, the athletic talent and skills distilled to near perfection, and the offensive schemes so complex they require supercomputer processing time to develop; the pay is light years ahead of the college sport, the drugs are sacrelicious, the bimbos world class (just ask Brian Urlacher), and the trash-talk seemingly scripted by Emenem, but I prefer the college game. Why? Well for starters, team names.

What’s in a name you ask? Not much if you’re a professional sports organization.

Most pro team names are pure vanilla, intentionally watered down to the least common denominator in order to appeal to as many or, more importantly, offend as few demographics as possible. Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh, my! Ho hum, is more like it.

Of course the NFL has the worst examples of this type of thing. The last few rounds of league expansion and team relocation have given us the mind numbingly unimaginative Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers, and Jacksonville Jaguars. I’ll give Baltimore some credit however. While the other new teams’ marketing stiffs pondered weakly and wearily, Baltimore’s came up with Ravens, in deference to the city’s famous native son, Edgar Allen Poe.

One has to wonder what’s next though. I’ll wager that Las Vegas is one of the next expansion cities and some nitwit will name the team the Luck. Get it? Gambling, Vegas, Lady Luck. The sad, part of it is this: Luck is the predominant factor in the outcome of most NFL games on any given Sunday. But don’t get me started on that again.

The trend to name teams after nebulous phenomena, atmospheric conditions, bodily injuries and/or functions, or something other than an animate object is irksome. The Wild, the Burn, the Magic and the Sting are fashionably vapid, passing the scrutiny of phalanxes of liability lawyers in our ‘fat guy sues McDonalds for making him fat’ society.

‘Ah ha, what about Miami’s pro basketball team? You can’t say that heat and Miami don’t go together. Heat’s kinda cool,’ you may say.

True, but it gets hot in a lot of other places too. The temperature is not what makes south Florida’s climate fearsome. So if intimidation is the point, the name should be the Miami Humidity. And actually I’m surprised it isn’t.

US collegiate football is quite a different story however. Sure there are some real yawners, Panthers, Eagles, Owls and Wildcats for instance. And there are no less than four Division 1-A Bulldogs-two each in two different conferences. Lame animal names really get my goat, but for most perspicacious student bodies, there’s no such thing as a pedestrian beast. In college, turtles are Terrapins, lizards are Gators (not alligators), weasels are Wolverines, turkeys are Hokies, cows are Longhorns, and pigs are Razorbacks. As you might guess, the keeper of this menagerie isn’t called ordinary farmer John either-he’s a Cornhusker.

Many US collegiate team names are lessons in geography and history as well; Rebels from ole Mississip, Buckeyes from the State of Ohio, Volunteers from the Smokies, Boilermakers from the mid-western rust belt, Mountaineers from the hollers of West Virginia, and Sooners from the wind swept plains of Oklahoma.

I find collective names the most interesting. There is a Thundering Herd, Wolfpack, Mean Green, Ramblin’ Wreck, and Crimson Tide. Then again some names are just plain confounding. What the heck are Hoosiers, Hoyas, Wahoos, Tarheels, and Aggies anyhow?

Native American monikers were once popular and a lot simpler to comprehend, but in general this sort of labeling has fallen out of favor. Several years back, the Saint John’s Red Men changed their name to the Red Storm out of respect for the feelings of American Indians. It really is a fascinating example of ‘burying the hatchet’ when an American university can adopt the euphemism for Cold War Communist expansionism.

Now the politically correct pendulum has swung to the extreme and the NCAA has adopted a policy to prohibit ‘colleges and universities from displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery at any of the 88 NCAA championships.’

This policy seems to be only targeted at schools that have American Indian related monikers. Of the eighteen schools listed as being ‘hostile and abusive’ all have native American or related nicknames. These include braves, warriors and specific tribe names like Seminoles.

So here’s my question. Why only native American nicknames? Seems to me, if merely choosing a nickname that has anything vaguely relating to a particular race/ethnicity/nationality is considered by the armchair eugenicists at the NCAA as hostile and abusive, then there are probably a few more fine institutions that need to cancel this fall’s uniform order.

For instance, oh, what about Notre Dame? The FIGHTING IRISH!

My goodness, if the name wasn’t disparaging enough, the Irish mascot is about as offensively stereotypical as things get (And this description comes from the official Notre Dame athletics web site.) ‘…the Leprechaun serves as the Notre Dame mascot. The Notre Dame logo features a side view of the figure with his dukes up, ready to battle anyone that comes his way.’

There is only one word that could be added to Notre Dame’s nickname that could possibly make it more offensive and that’s drunken. The DRUNKEN FIGHTING IRISH. I wonder if that would get the NCAA Chancellors’ attention?

There probably never was a place for ‘Indians’ or ‘Redskins’ as names for sports teams. Picketing Chiefs and Braves games seems a little overly sensitive. Are any and all references to one ethnic group or another necessarily racist or demeaning in a sports context? Is there no respectful way to use a name with an ethic connotation that would reflect positively on that group and honor it? What is the secret to the acceptance of The Fighting Irish and Ragin’ Cajuns? Will political correctness and focus group marketing doom us to a colorless future of Rockies, Browns, Wizards, and Blue Jackets? I hope not.

Next in the sights of the PC crusaders? Religion is my guess, Deacons, Friars, Quakers, Padres, and Saints are probably all soon to be considered offensively proselytizing.

What about obscenity? It’s hard to conceive that the University of South Carolina will slip through the NCAA censors much longer.

I’m certain however, that every South Carolina football fan is proud that for six Saturdays each fall he or she can, as part of eighty thousand strong, scream at the top of his or her lungs with no shame or embarrassment, ‘No one kin lick (as in defeat) our Gamecocks (but leave out ‘Game’)!’

Well then, enough beating around the (ahem) bush and back to the business at hand. Who will win the Superbowl this season? Falcons. Big whoop-de-do.

Who will win the Rose Bowl? Trojans. Enjoy it while it lasts.