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Doug Wolter: Is any nickname really safe?

A new front has been opened up in the nickname wars.

Forget the Washington Redskins controversy for a moment. Consider the University of Mississippi.

Until now, most nickname-bashing has been directed from the outside in — such as the Redskins situation, where owner Daniel Snyder has so far withstood several calls to change the team’s nickname considered by many to be offensive to Native Americans.

This week, however, Mississippi has decided to bash itself. University officials have declared that the nickname “Ole Miss” could be deemed offensive to some, and so they will require themselves to “use discretion” regarding its use.

It apparently doesn’t matter that a study commissioned by the university found that the vast majority of respondents see “Ole Miss” as either a positive or non-threatening identifier. A small percentage think of it as a negative throwback to the Civil War era — something to be ashamed of.

This heightened awareness raises the stakes for nicknames everywhere. Are we now entering a new phase of political correctness where once-safe nicknames are no longer unassailable?

With that in mind, I’ve chosen a list of nicknames from the state and region (high schools mostly) and attached to them the percentage of likelihood that controversies might arise within the next five years. I’m only including nicknames that up to this point have been deemed safe. It pays to be alert:

Adrian Dragons — 32 percent. Dragons are mythical creatures, and fire-breathing. Be wary of anti-smoking groups.

Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms — 3 percent. In today’s nickname environment, it’s hard to find anything more unthreatening than “Blossoms.” The Redskins could do much worse than re-naming themselves for a flower, like Daisies or Petunias.

Cannon Falls Bombers — 45 percent. A warlike nickname. Reminds people of the military industrial complex.

Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks — 37 percent. Blackjacks reminds people of gambling and casinos. Are we sure this is the image we want to project onto impressionable high school kids?

Duluth-Denfeld Hunters — 28 percent. There is a relatively small, but an active anti-hunting crowd lurking in the weeds.

Edgerton Flying Dutchmen — 10 percent. This is much less troublesome than Redskins because it’s a nickname chosen by the Dutch, themselves.

Fulda Raiders — 30 percent. OK, Raiders. Fine. But wait a minute … Just what kind of Raiders are you guys? Oakland Raiders? Corporate Raiders? Hmmm.

Hills-Beaver Creek Patriots — 16 percent. It’s still a good thing to be patriotic, isn’t it? Even though people argue about what that means nowadays.

Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg Fighting Saints — 25 percent. There’s nothing wrong with saints that fight, especially with all those dastardly principalities and powers out there. But beware of pacifists.

Mankato East Cougars — 58 percent. In Utah, a school actually wanted to call itself the Cougars but was denied permission. The issue wasn’t the animal, but something else.

Mankato Loyola Crusaders — 54 percent. A perfectly acceptable nickname if you're a Catholic. For a certain other major world religion, not so much.

Minneota Vikings — 31 percent. I have a friend who says that, because he’s Scandanavian, he is duly offended. I smell trouble.

Minnesota West Community and Technical College Bluejays — 39 percent. Bluejays aren’t very nice birds. You can look it up.

Murray County Central Rebels — 34 percent. Why Rebels? Is MCC displaying its allegiance to The South? The Old South? And, hey, isn’t MCC a part of Minnesota, a Union state?

Sibley-Ocheyedan Generals — 40 percent. More of the military industrial complex argument. Not as intimidating as Bombers, but obviously not as friendly as Blossoms.

Sheldon Orabs — 28 percent. Trust me, there are those who consider the nickname an affront to the colors orange and black.

Wabasso Rabbits — 5 percent. A very inoffensive name. And funny, to some. It would be better, however, if they went for alliteration, like Wabasso Wabbits. And Elmer Fudd could be their mascot, which would bring their rating to 2.5.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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