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Sports teams’ nicknames and iconography reinforce derogatory stereotypes.

Pittsburgh Pirates mascot

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Lawmakers, left-wing pundits, news publications, and even a few sports fans have taken on a new mission in recent months (or, rather, revived an old one): demanding that the NFL’s Washington Redskins change their name. A handful of liberal magazines, such as Slate, Mother Jones, and The New Republic, find it so offensive that they will no longer print the name, relying instead on circumlocutions such as “the Washington team.” MSNBC host Rachel Maddow wouldn’t even utter “Redskins” in a recent segment devoted to changing the name, instead referring to the team as the “R-Word.”

Opponents of the name point to its racial ties, the corny Native American logo, and the connotation that the culture is violent. Many other sports teams, college and pro, that once used Indian names have retired them: Stanford went from “Indians” to “Cardinal,” while the University of North Dakota reluctantly abandoned “Fighting Sioux” and has yet to choose a replacement. While Redskins owner Dan Snyder has vowed never to change his team’s name, the assertion seems to have only emboldened its opponents.

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Yet those same activists should consider expanding their fight to nicknames that offend members of all ethnic groups. For example:

The Irish: The Boston Celtics may be the winningest team in NBA history, but fans have to look the other way on the team’s politically incorrect logo: Pudgy, short, pipe in mouth, Lucky the Leprechaun perpetuates a caricature of the Irish. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish logo plays to the stereotype of Irishmen as hotheaded, pugnacious ragamuffins. And what’s with the funny-looking shoes? The Irish are more than cartoonish imps, and deserve better.

Gaels: Iona College, N.Y.


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