Confusion reins when it comes to team nicknames

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   This morning, I started to write my column thinking that because of my love of sports, I would look into political correctness in using a name. Primarily, I was thinking about those folks who felt words like "Redmen, or Redskins, Indians, or Braves" were derogatory to Native Americans. My entire thesis today was to be about just that.

However, as I looked into it, this column presented many more challenges with many of the nicknames and mascots being strange and in fact completely out of place with teams they represented.

I first rooted for the Braves when they were in Boston.  To me, the name always meant a courageous team of nine battling to win against all odds. But that aside, my college UMASS which is now the UMASS Amherst Minutemen (an apropos name), was then the Redmen  while I went there.

But I am getting off the track. I found some really strange names, which I hope you will allow me to share. Many of them, actually most of them, have nothing to do with the school, or team, or location of the team.

The names most often used to describe teams are ferocious fighting species like "Wildcats, Eagles, Tigers, Bulldogs and Bears". Then the fun begins. Not all names denote how the teams battle for victory.

One interesting thing before I leave the Indian name situation, is the case of the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. A Native American Student designed their Indian Head Logo 80 years.  Currently the logo has now been retired and unretired by the State Legislature three times.  

Finally, under threat of lawsuits and penalties initiated by the NCAA, the legislature removed the logo and called for a special election in order to allow the University to move on. In the best interests of the University, the law that was passed allows for a cooling off period and prohibits UND from putting in place a new logo until 2015

Does the NCAA really have the right to go against a Universities wishes, because they feel the need to be Politically Correct?  

This battle is still going on!

Many schools have no problem keeping their unique nicknames, to mention a few are:  UC Santa Cruz known as the Banana Slugs, or UC Irvine, the Anteaters, or the team my late friend Mike Kasino once owned, "The Savannah Sand Gnats".

Still there are many more that border on the unusual and strange. How about the University of Maryland known as the "Terrapins." A  "Terrapin" is a slow-moving Turtle that just happens to be the official State Reptile of Maryland. Would you want your team to be perceived as slow and sluggish?

How about Southern Illinois known as the "Salukis"? Ask yourself, how did an Egyptian Royal Dog become the nickname of a Midwestern College?

Stanford that is known for its cerebral power has a mascot called "The Tree."  It stands on the sidelines for everyone to see looking like something created in a Kindergarten made of construction paper and Elmer's Glue.

What do you think of Oski, UC Berkley's Golden Bear?  It's ridiculous.  Standing on the sidelines it looks like a 60 year old man complete with Receding Hairline and a grandpa Cardigan.  Who does these things?

If you are from Chicago, no one calls the NFL team "The Bears". Instead they are lovingly referred to as "Da Bears".

Western Illinois is called "the Leathernecks". With special permission of the Department of Defense, they are the only non-service school to boast a Military nickname.

Before I conclude let's look at a few of the changes based on the perceived defamatory use of Native American perceptions.

... Colgate Red Raiders became the Raiders... the Dartmouth Indians are now the Big Green... The Marquette Warriors became the Golden Eagles in 1994... (they also retired their mascot "Willie Wampum").

Still some remain in tact.  Among them, the Florida Seminoles, the San Diego Aztecs, The Utah Utes to mention a few.

What does this all mean? The way I see it, is that if you take pride in a name in the proper context, there is no harm, nor foul. But if the name is used derisively, then a change should be made.

I am watching UND to see that happens in the next few years.


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Sports Scrapbook
Shelly Saltman has been in the sports world as an executive, TV producer, broadcaster and event creator for more than 50 years. Among his credentials are his work with Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel, the numerous network TV shows he produced and created, NBA/NHL management roles, co-creator of the Amgen Tour of California and as the first president of Fox Sports. He lives in Ventura County.