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Doug Wolter: That continuing, confusing battle over nicknames

What's a nickname mean? What makes it offensive? Who decides? Should we care so much?

The Washington Redsk … er, Washington Football Team will soon announce its new nickname. Personally, I like the old one. No, not that one. The Football Team. It’s basic, it’s safe, and when you really think about it, it’s kind of cool.

That little bit of news brings to mind something else that was in the news recently, and that is the decision by the Rutland City School Commissioners (in Vermont) to change the high school’s name back from Ravens to Raiders. The Raiders designation was retired in 2020 along with the arrowhead logo because it was considered offensive to indigenous people.

The fuss over school mascots and nicknames will probably be with us for quite a while longer. But it seems to me that Raiders is fine, and if someone objects (and many still do) just drop logos altogether and simply put an “R” on team jerseys.

At least they’re not going to call the team “Guardians.” Major League Baseball’s old Cleveland Indians changed their name to Guardians last season, and nobody likes it. It’s going to take decades before “Cleveland Guardians” begins to seem normal.

Old traditions don’t die easily, just because somebody wants them to. Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to Guardians. I’ll just call them the Cleveland Baseball Team.

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Doug Wolter
Doug Wolter

So what’s really offensive these days, anyway? And who gets to decide? In America now, it only takes one person to make a claim and in a matter of minutes a controversy ensues. Just put it out there on social media and you’ve got instant chaos. You can’t disagree with any outrageous claim, because that would expose you as un-woke and perhaps even (here’s that other dreaded R word) racist.

Almost everybody, it seems, is bending over backwards not to offend, but that just means, actually, that you’re only offending a different class of people. It can be about anything. NASA, for instance, has stopped using the term “Eskimo” as a way to describe planetary nebula NGC2392, whatever that is. I don’t know how many real Eskimos complained, but my guess is that somebody else complained for them.

We’ve got a few high school nicknames in The Globe coverage area that might one of these days cause eyebrows to raise -- that is, if the nickname police choose to focus their attention around here. I’m not going to say which nicknames because (1) I don’t want to give people ideas, and (2) I’m honestly not sure what the rules are.

Take Raiders, for example. If that word is so offensive, why aren’t more people complaining about the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders of the National Football League? I get it, that in Rutland the use of the arrowhead logo made people think about Native Americans, but of course nobody chooses to call themselves something to make fun of somebody else.

I know. That doesn’t matter anymore. But Raiders. Raiders can be Vikings sent on a pillaging mission. It can mean Civil War troops sent to capture vittles. It can mean pirates, which it seems to imply on the NFL team’s insignia.

Perhaps one day soon, after the Washington Football Team kerfuffle is settled, the nickname police will go hard after the next NFL team, too, if not because of the racist connotations of the name, but for the fact that’s appropriated. You see, you’re not supposed to “appropriate” things, either, as in you must be born a Raider in order to call yourself a Raider. And getting back to the Vikings, the dirty little secret is that the people who named the Vikings aren’t real Vikings at all; they just liked the name. That’s bad nowadays.

According to a news article written about the Rutland City School Commissioners, the change back from Ravens to Raiders was controversial. No surprise there.

Some said students hadn’t been sufficiently included in the decision, though the majority of commissioners argued that fans still called the team Raiders anyway.

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The senior class representative disgreed. And another student said she knows “a lot of people in quite a lot of different circles” and they “just want it to be over.”

Well, I can understand that part.

Related Topics: NFL
Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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