Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Go, Atlanta Crackers!
So, I am a sports fan. I primarily follow pro football and baseball, but I know what a hat trick is, and I know what "Rainbow 24" means. My primary teams are (in football) the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles, (and in baseball) the San Francisco Giants, the Texas Rangers, and the Philadelphia Phillies.
All of that is to say that I really do not have a dog in the hunt that is the controversy about use of Native American mascots. I am neither Native American, nor am I a fan of any team that uses one. I do agree, however, that if we do accept that all people are human beings, children of God, then we need to accept that groups get to choose what they call themselves, and we, acting out of our privilege, do not get to assume use of their images.
That's why I find this article by Michael Silver of Yahoo Sports to be so interesting and well-spoken. It really is different for a team to be named after a Native American tribe (Seminoles, Illini) or an aspect of native American Culture (Braves, Indians) than it is to name a team the Celtics or the Yankees. It's a borrowing without permission. I think that's also defined as stealing. Stanford University, that bastion of radicality and liberal thinking (yes, sarcasm is being used here) did this a long time ago, I think in the 80's, when they stopped using "Indians" and began to use "Cardinal". No one died in Palo Alto, either, when they made that change.
When majority culture officials say "it's really a tribute", I'm reminded about Ben Franklin's saying about taxation without representation; "it's like a steer that still gets called a bull. He's appreciative of the honor, but he'd much rather have returned what he lost."
Towns and schools like Atlanta, Cleveland, the University of Illinois, and especially Washington exist within such strong cultures, all of them. Something could surely be chosen that is a little less an exercise in maintaining white privilege. I'm sure Drew Carey wouldn't mind if they decided on the Cleveland Rocks. And what better homage to history can you make than to change the name of the Atlanta Braves to the Atlanta Crackers! It's no different to use that than for Boston to use the Celtics.
As for Washington DC-- avoiding any silly references to pork or windbags or whatever, a metro area of 2 million people or so can surely muster an adequate amount of creativity. You could even keep the Burgundy and Gold! Look just up I-95. The naming of a sports team doesn't get much better creatively or astute historically than calling the team the Baltimore Ravens. Hey, Washington; you want that Baltimore could do something better than you?