January 31, 2003

NO-NAME DEFENSE: The Lincoln Journal-Star

NO-NAME DEFENSE: The Lincoln Journal-Star newspaper announced this week that they will no longer publish the names of sports teams with Native-American nicknames or likenesses. The Journal-Star joins the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which has had a similar policy since around the time of the 1991 World Series, and thus had considerable difficulty covering the Series four years later when the Cleveland Indians squared off against the Atlanta Braves.
The issue of "offensive" team nicknames in sports is one on which I have a couple of deep-seeded prejudices that best be gotten out of the way first: two of the three teams I hate most in baseball (the aforementioned Indians and Braves) use such nicknames. The Minnesota-based lobbying group AIM (American Indian Movement) picketed Games 1, 2, 6, and 7 of the '91 Series over the Braves' participation and actively cheered for the Twins- after all, we've all seen the sad, pathetic spectacle of Braves fans wearing Indian headdresses and moaning the odious "Tomahawk Chop" theme song; seeing that this is the same organization that tolerated John Rocker, it's hard not to be offended.
I object to "Redskins" because it's an actual racial slur, and to the Indians' "Chief Wahoo" logo (though the team was named after Louis Sockalexis, a turn-of-the-20th-century player who was himself Native-American). I have less of a problem with more neutral terms such as "Chiefs," "Warriors," and even "Braves," as they could be construed as not referring to tribal sensibilities specifically. And I must put mind to a survey published in Sports Illustrated two years ago which stated that a majority of Native-Americans in the US are not opposed to their likenesses being apropriated by sports teams.
As for newspapers blacklisting Native-American nicknames, I object not so much on anti-PC grounds as on journalistic grounds. For a newspaper to react to facts that it doesn't like by pretending they don't exist is simply shoddy, dishonest journalism- if the Journal-Star were virulently opposed to George W. Bush's policies, would they be justified in removing "President" from his name? The approach is also counterproductive, in that it does nothing to hurt the teams financially or pressure them to change the names; no team above the high school level has been affected by the 10-year boycott of the Strib, which has many times the circulation of the Journal-Star. Why would the Washington Redskins, the principal target of the the move, feel pressured by the actions of a newspaper in Lincoln, Nebraska?
Leaving sports team names out of newspapers is clearly a fruitless activist cause of questionable journalistic legitimacy- so how long before Howell Raines hops on board?

Posted by Stephen Silver at January 31, 2003 01:43 AM
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