Politics & Policy

More Ugly Mascots

Sports teams’ nicknames and iconography reinforce derogatory stereotypes.

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.

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.

The Scots: The Scots have also borne the brunt of one-sided characterization in the college and high-school ranks, stereotyped Braveheart-style as ruthless, belligerent, stabby, unkempt, and kilt-clad.

Fighting Scots: Edinboro University, Pa.

Scots: Alma College, Mich.

Highlanders: New Jersey Institute of Technology

Argylls: Madison-Grant High School, Fairmount, Ind.

Other Europeans: A variety of northern European nicknames project a war-fighting nature (and peroxide-blond hair) upon entire citizenries and nationalities.

Dutchmen: Union College, New York

Norse: Northern Kentucky University

Swedes (formerly Terrible Swedes): Bethany College, Kan.

Britons: Albion College, Mich.

Hillbillies: If “Redskins” is a no-go, then a nickname that amounts to “Rednecks” should be off the table too. A handful of high schools, not only in Arkansas and West Virginia but even in New Jersey and New York, clearly play to the connotation of people of Appalachian heritage as unrefined and unsophisticated.

Ozark High School, Ozark, Ark.

Fredonia High School, Fredonia, N.Y.

Appleknockers: Anti-rustic animus (one dictionary defines “appleknocker” as “an ignorant or unsophisticated person”) rears its ugly head yet again. A high school in Cobden, Ill., goes by the “Appleknockers” and features a young chap with a straw hat and overalls chewing a piece of straw.


Italian Americans: The Eastern Junior Hockey League’s New Jersey team perpetuates the stereotype of Italian Americans as mobsters, from the striped suit to the stubble to the square-jawed scowl.

Cajuns: The University of Louisiana–Lafayette’s Ragin’ Cajuns cast a barbarous light on the Cajun people. The name paints Cajuns as being in a constant mode of raucous Mardi Gras revelry. While the school has changed its mascot to, of all things, an anthropomorphized Cayenne pepper (for what it’s worth, Delta State (Miss.) has an okra mascot), the image of its former mascot, Mr. Ragin’ Cajun, lives on:

Whitefaces: Putting aside that it refers to the breed of cattle, the name has the potential to make a white athlete at Texas’s Hereford High School uncomfortable.

Violence- and Criminal-Based Nicknames: Are we to believe that bandits and criminals have no soft side? And should plunder and mayhem be stereotypically associated with one race?

Brooks Bandits (Alberta Junior Hockey League)

Criminals (Yuma Union High School, Ariz.)

Pittsburgh Pirates

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Corsairs (University of Massachusetts–Dartmouth, Mass.)

Bradenton Marauders (minor-league baseball)

Maniacs: Idaho’s Orofino High School depicts maniacs in the worst possible light. The school is apparently unaware of the wonders wrought by the rise of psychotropic drugs. 

— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review.

Editor’s Note: This article has been amended since its initial posting.


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