Lincicome: What's in a name? Quite a bit when it comes to sports teams

  • Atlanta Braves fans do the tomahawk chop during the first inning of Game 4 of the National League division series against Milwaukee Brewers in Atlanta. While a good chunk of the world moves forward, the Braves clinging stubbornly to the past, hoping that any opposition to their nickname and the tomahawk chop will somehow just fade away.

    Atlanta Braves fans do the tomahawk chop during the first inning of Game 4 of the National League division series against Milwaukee Brewers in Atlanta. While a good chunk of the world moves forward, the Braves clinging stubbornly to the past, hoping that any opposition to their nickname and the tomahawk chop will somehow just fade away. Associated Press/Oct. 12, 2021

 
Updated 10/29/2021 2:15 PM

Today's lesson in semantics is prompted by the World Series, a misnamed event that offends no one even though the world is much larger than the two semi-southern cities where it is taking place.

I notice no protests from, say, Cameroon or Latvia, insulted that, though they are certainly a part of the world, it is not a series to which they are invited or even thought about.

 

But that's another column. In this one I would like to address a serious issue about one of the World Series teams and its complete disregard for correctness and propriety, the team whose nickname is a slur against an entire community, marginalized and disrespected.

I speak, of course, of the 11th grade English teacher trying to keep his class from getting restless when he explains that "Astro" is not a noun. "Astro" is a prefix. "Astros" is a plural of a prefix. Prefixes do not have plurals.

Yo, Mary, wake up David, there in the back row. This will be on the test later.

Oh, sure, you will find indignant essays moaning about sports nicknames that denigrate Native Americans and insult their heritage. You'll find those everywhere when a team like the Atlanta Braves gets on the big stage with their fans chanting and tomahawk chopping.

While this is certainly bad behavior it is typical of sports fans who routinely harass not only the visiting team but lately even the President of the United States, most notably with a short four-letter verb followed by his name, bleep Biden, alerting networks to keep a finger on the mute button.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Disrespect is endemic, or maybe pandemic, in sports. One of the more opaque chants comes from Arkansas where fans shout "Wooo, pig sooie," meaning what is not clear nor just exactly who is being insulted.

The tomahawk chop is clear, it mocks Native Americans. It can be interpreted no other way. There are other hand signals that may be used, some requiring more than one digit, a tradition that goes back to thumbs-up or thumbs-down in the arena. Now even the helpful OK sign has taken on a hateful quality.

If all of this was just trash talk, a way to intimidate an opponent, that would be one thing, not acceptable but one thing. But this is another thing. The chop is an organized emblem of community hate, participated in by politicians and celebrities as well as ordinary Walmart shoppers.

Caring folks get upset about those things. The Washington Redskins have dropped their nickname altogether. The team is anonymous now, much like the Native Americans it demeaned, known only as WFT, a dangerous sequence of initials in these times. One slip or autocorrect and you have a whole new meaning.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Of course "Redskins" is a racist trope and should be banished. There is no defending that. Same with the Indians in Cleveland. They are now the Guardians. Rather grand are Guardians, usually safeguarding an entire galaxy but valid, too, for a city, even a county, considering the limited reach of Cleveland's baseball team.

No matter. The most noticeable casualty in that adjustment is Chief Wahoo, a childhood pal and easy to draw. So long, you bucktoothed goof. As for the Guardians, it may still be possible to use Tribe, I suppose, there being no collective noun for Cleveland's new team nickname.

Tricky business this political correctness, and full of defenders of the one right way. Solutions are easy.

For Atlanta, simply drop off the "s" and "Braves," a noun, becomes "Brave," an adjective and a fine quality. This would work for Kansas City as well. "Chiefs" become "Chief," though the arrowheads have to go.

As for Washington, why not "Wind?" You know, hot air. Or "Government," since the two are interchangeable anyhow.

There is no rule that says a team's nickname must end in "s." Chicago, to keep it local, has had a run of singulars, from the Fire, the Sky, the Sting, the Blitz.

I hope this has been of some help in understanding the obligation sports teams have of representing themselves without offending anyone.

Houston started out as the politically incorrect Colt 45s, stayed that way until fake grass was invented. Then they became the Astros. I'll say it one more time, class. Astro is a prefix.

Pop quiz at any time.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.