Recent events have reminded me of a time way back in the early seventies when I was on the student council at old Clement High School. Our school team nickname at that time was the Rebels. This was only a few years after the school had been integrated. The integration process had gone over smoothly, and everyone was getting along real well.
Although there had been no complaints about the Rebel nickname and its Civil War connection, the student council was concerned about its usage and potential problems down the road. We discussed the possibility of changing the nickname. My attitude was, “We probably will change the nickname in the future. So let’s go ahead and do it now and pick a new one that we’ll like.” After discussion, we decided not to go that way and the Rebel nickname remained.
But we were right. A few years after I graduated the Clement Rebels became the Clement Cougars. Then, a few years after that Clement High School was no more, consolidating with Midway High School. (Trust me, it was harder for us old time Clement High graduates to accept now being Midway than the nickname change to Cougars.)
The recent event that reminded me of those times was the uproar over the National Football League Washington Redskins, and the use of that nickname. While there have been complaints that the usage of that nickname is offensive to Native Americans over the years, it’s just been over the past few months that the media and the general public have joined the cause. Of course, the Washington politicians are now weighing in, expressing their outrage at such an offensive nickname. (I wonder how many of those same politicians, now expressing outrage, have refused tickets from lobbyists to Redskins’ games over the years due to the nickname.)
If you are around my age, and liked professional football, the team you grew up watching was the Washington Redskins. They were our team. Why? Because they were on TV every Sunday. You grew up suffering with losing Washington teams until Coach George Allen came along. Even though the Carolina Panthers are now supposed to be “our” team, the Washington Redskins are still the team for many of us. And the truth is they would have been our team whether they were the Redskins or the Red Hawks.
But many are offended by the Washington football team nickname. I think some of the criticism is legitimate, and the nickname will probably be changed. But, in reality, most of the criticism from the media, politicians, and others is their desire to be on the “right side” in a politically correct world. The PC police are always vigilant to make sure that no one is ever possibly offended. (Well, almost no one. There are some groups, like Christians, that it’s seen as OK, even encouraged.) But what about team mascots and nicknames from this area?
My university, East Carolina, is known as the Pirates. I’m sure there are families down on our coast, who have had ancestors negatively impacted by the pirates who used to roam our coast. Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, reportedly said, “If I didn’t kill a man every now and then, they’d forget who I am.” Shouldn’t we be sensitive to those who had ancestors so brutally treated by pirates? Two other universities in our state, Wake Forest and Duke, are called the Demon Deacons and the Blue Devils. Isn’t that offensive to Christians? Where are the protests? Oh yeah, it’s the Christians who could be offended. It’s OK.
But the greatest offender in this area is that bastion of political correctness, the University of North Carolina. How can those folks in Chapel Hill allow themselves to be called Tar Heels? Don’t they know that Tar Heels were the name given a regiment of North Carolina soldiers during the Civil War? That’s right, Confederate soldiers. The story goes that the soldiers stood their ground in battle like they had tar stuck to the bottom of their heels. (That’s one version of the story. The other version was that it was said the soldiers needed tar on their heels to keep them from running away from battle.) Whatever version, the soldiers were still Rebels. I wonder if the PC police in Chapel Hill is aware of such an offense taking place right under their noses. I’m sure it was taught in the African American Studies classes taken by all those Tar Heel ballplayers.
We should be aware and be sensitive to language and actions that really might be offensive to others. But we should also realize that many involved in political correctness are in it to advance their own personal agenda or to gain approval from their peers. I’ve already read a couple of articles about possible new nicknames for the Washington football team once the Redskin name is dropped. One suggestion was to use the nickname of the old Washington baseball team. But calling the team, the Washington Senators, would be offensive to just about everyone.