Language Matters: Sports Edition

Posted on July 15, 2020

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Language usage in sports is all about emotion: encouragement, hope, scorn, rage, elation–and unity. The oft-repeated adage, “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team,'” speaks to the group identity of an athletic team–and its fans (Remember: ‘fan’ is a short form of ‘fanatic.’).

A team name unifies individuals (there is an ‘I’ in unity), but can also be divisive–because it’s based in white supremacy–because it’s racist.

FINALLY, after decades of advocacy by indigenous activists like Change the Mascot, NCAI and their supporters, some sports teams with racist team names are…considering changing them. Some are resisting the change. I will not be using the disrespectful team names here, but the original sources do print them.

From “‘Blinded By Fandom’: An Argument For Changing The Chicago B——–s Name:”

The Chicago B——-s last week took criticism for their refusal to change their team name and logo.

The H—s decision was announced just days after the Washington R——s, whose name many consider to be a racial slur, and the Cleveland I—-s said they were looking into a name change.”

This issue is not a small problem. MANY racist team names, at all levels of sports, from T-ball to pro, need to change, as this article highlights.

On a humorous note, I saw on Twitter, in response to the announcement that the Washington team is changing its name, “Please let it be changed to the Washington Whypipo.” 😉

“Atlanta B—-s Silent On Changing Team Name As Other Sports Teams Mull Options”

The Atlanta B—–s, who once spotlighted Chief Noc-a-Homa, a [stereotyped caricature] who would emerge from a teepee and do a war dance when a team player hit a home run (he was “retired” before the 1986 season) just issued a letter that seemed defiant on the name controversy.

The B—-s, along with Cleveland, Washington and such teams as the Kansas City C—-s, Florida State S——-s, and San Francisco 4—s, have been under pressure to change names and logos deemed offensive.

Some team names, while not racist, can be problematic for other reasons. Brighton school district in New York has decided to change their team name for a different reason:

“Finally, we will also begin the process of choosing a new mascot,” McGowan also said in the letter at bcsd.org. “The Baron is a symbol of elitism and privilege at best and can be historically traced to slavery.

“It is time to engage the community in choosing a symbol and a name that reflects a spirit or ethos we can all embrace and all be proud of.”

In my local area, Lenawee County, a campaign is underway to pressure Clinton Community Schools to change their racist team name. This change is LONG overdue, as I remember pressuring the district as a member of Leh-Nah-Weh Powwow committee to change it around the year 2000. When I lived in Clinton, I was horrified at being awash in the offensive images and language. It was a relief to move into a district with a leaf for a mascot.

In 2013, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights issued a report calling for all K-12 schools to drop the racist names, but many, like Tecumseh, and my home district, Grass Lake, and others listed in the report, continue to perpetuate racist ideas through their team name or logos. Both schools dropped the stereotypical images of Indigenous people from their logos, but they need to take the final step and change their names–because they are still rooted in racist ideas about Indigenous peoples.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights asserts that the use of American Indian imagery in primary and secondary educational institutions denies equal learning opportunities for some students. We do not, in this complaint, allege that any of the named schools illegally discriminated by their past use of appropriated imagery, only that they do so by continuing to use the imagery knowing it has been objectively shown to harm students. We believe that after examining the question in the context of this civil rights complaint, the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights will find that, irrespective of how benign (or even well meaning) the intent behind the imagery’s may have been (or may now be), no other conclusion is supportable.

If you agree that it’s time for all sports teams to drop the racist team names, please join the fight for change by signing petitions, donating to campaigns, and contacting teams and local school districts to Change the Mascot. 

Let’s use the momentum created by the Washington change to e-racism from team names everywhere.

And let’s not forget: racism isn’t the only issue. Misogyny is an issue that plagues sports, as well. One of my former students, Anne Henningfeld, writes about the struggle for gender inclusion in the Adrian Maples fight song here.


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lisa eddy is a writer, researcher, educator, advocate,  musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy

On email: lisagay.eddy1@gmail.com