The NFL currently has a public relations nightmare on its hands. No, we’re not just talking about the recent incidents where several high-profile players were convicted of violently beating their loved ones. And we’re not just talking about allegations of rampant hazing and homophobia in the locker rooms. Nor are we talking about the unbridled use of amphetamines and performance enhancing drugs by some of the game’s stars. (Sheesh, when you list it all out like that it’s almost as if the glorification of a violent sport combined with the hyper-masculinity of a bunch of roided up dudes is a bad thing. Hmm.)
Anyway, here, we’re talking specifically about the NFL’s Redskins problem. For years – decades even – Native American activists have lobbied both the NFL and the Redskins organization to change the name of the team to something slightly less horrifying. But Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder, in what can best be described as an attempt to claim this year’s coveted “Out-of-Touch Rich White Guy” Award, has repeatedly said that the name will never be changed as long as he owns the team. And racists the world over (or, at least in the greater-Washington, D.C. area) rejoiced.
But that whole controversy got us thinking: What other team names and mascots have drawn ire in the past for their insensitive representations of different groups of people or offensive ideas? Quite a few, it turns out. While many of the entries on the list below are genuinely objectionable, others are merely amusing, if still distasteful. So, sit back, pre-twist your knickers if you like, and prepare to be offended.
15. Atlanta Black Crackers
And we’re hitting the ground running! The Atlanta Black Crackers, formerly the Atlanta Cubs, were a professional baseball team competing in the Negro American League during the first half of the 20th century. The team saw some middling success in the late 1930s, but was never much of a force to be reckoned with. They eventually moved to Indianapolis and began playing as the ABCs, before eventually folding after the 1952 season.
Once Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in Major League Baseball, most of the teams in the Negro leagues quickly died off, and the Black Crackers were no exception. Their memory is kept alive, however, by the Atlanta Braves (themselves no strangers to offensive team names), who every now and then wear throwback jerseys to honor the Black Crackers.
14. St. John’s University Redmen
Prior to 1995, the sports teams for St. John’s University played as the Redmen. The school tried to convince Native American protestors that the name was in reference to the red uniforms the players wore, and not in any way derogatory term for Native Americans. This might have worked, too, had the University’s mascot not been a white guy dressed as a stereotypical Indian Chief, replete with headdress and war paint.
The university eventually relented and now its teams compete as the Red Storm. Their mascot also got an update. He’s now Johnny Thunderbird, a giant red hawk with lightning bolts for eyebrows and black, bottomless pits where his eyes should be. It’s less offensive and infinitely more terrifying than the old mascot.
13. Louisiana–Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
Before the 1960s, the sports teams at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette were simply and generically called the Bulldogs. The school’s boosters and ardent fanbase didn’t feel that this moniker was appropriate given its location in the heart of Acadiana, Louisiana’s Francophone Cajun region. In 1963 the school’s teams were renamed the Ragin’ Cajuns. Most Acadians were thrilled with the name, feeling that it was a befitting representation of the region and its inhabitants.
A small but vocal minority, however, took exception to the Ragin’ Cajun name. Some Cajuns felt that the irreverent name, coupled with the university’s man-sized cayenne pepper mascot, gave license to outsiders to disparage and mock the Cajun people. They worried that the already stereotypical view many people held of Cajuns as backwater bumpkins would only be intensified by the new name. Their pleas fell on mostly deaf ears, though, and the Ragin’ Cajuns are still going strong.
12. St. Bonaventure University Brown Squaws
Up until 1990, the women’s teams at St. Bonaventure University were known as the Brown Squaws. If you’re unfamiliar, squaw is an English loan-word originally from the Algonquin language, referring to a Native American female. Over the years, the term gained derogatory connotations, to the point where every time the Brown Squaws took the floor it was practically a hate crime.
The women’s teams at St. Bonaventure are now imaginatively named the Bonnies and the only ones offended by that milquetoast name are people with cognitive abilities beyond that of a toddler. But boring is better than racist.
11. Kansas City Chiefs
You know the NFL has a problem when a debate breaks out about culturally insensitive team names and you have to stop and ask, “Which one?” The Kansas City Chiefs managed to squeeze past Redskins-gate (sorry) relatively unscathed earlier this year. This was partly because the name “Chiefs” isn’t quite as slap-you-in-the-face racist as “Redskins” is and partly because their owner isn’t the Pro-Bowl-level moron that Daniel Snyder is.
Regardless, opposition to the team’s name has persisted for decades. Things came to a head in the mid-1980s when the team debuted its new mascot: Indian Man, an otherwise unremarkable man bedecked in all the hallmarks of how white people think Native Americans look. Indian Man didn’t go over so well and he was soon replaced by the Chiefs’ current mascot, K.C. Wolf.
10. Hartford Whalers
The Hartford Whalers were a professional ice hockey team based for most of its existence in Hartford, Connecticut. The team was founded in 1972 and existed until 1997, when it relocated to North Carolina and became known as the Hurricanes. The Whalers moniker wasn’t necessarily offensive to any racial or ethnic group. Instead, animal rights activists took umbrage at the glorification of whaling not so subtly implied in the team’s name.
They viewed whaling as a particularly brutal and shameful aspect of the country’s history, one that certainly shouldn’t be exalted by a professional sports franchise. Their concerns were ultimately moot, however, as the team eventually relocated and adopted a name utterly incapable of offending. After all, when has a hurricane ever done anything to disturb someone?
9. Golden State Warriors
The NBA’s Golden State Warriors have benefitted from the relative banality of their name. These days the term warrior just implies a fierce competitor. However, in the franchise’s early days, back when the team was located in Philadelphia, the name warrior had a much more focused connotation: In 1946, when the team was founded, warrior very strongly conjured the image of a Native American fighter.
It also didn’t help that the Philadelphia Warriors’ mascot was the most ridiculously offensive caricature of a Native American this side of the Crying Indian. Eventually, the Warriors moved west and discarded the old mascot. They kept the name, however, and people have largely forgotten about its insensitive roots.
8. London Rippers
The Rippers were a Canadian professional baseball team based in London, Ontario during the summer of 2012. The team halted all operations midway through the season, citing financial constraints and a lack of interest shown by the community. Perhaps naming your baseball team after the most infamous serial killer of all time just isn’t the business home run the Rippers’ owners had hoped it would be.
Local women’s rights organizations immediately began protesting the team’s name and logo, which featured a not-at-all-serial-killer-looking man in a top hat and trench coat, suspiciously leering at something (someone?) off in the distance. Protesters were (rightly) concerned that the team’s name and logo served to glorify Jack the Ripper, the sadistic murderer who preyed on women in Victorian London (England, not Canada, if you needed that pointed out to you). It’s actually too bad other organizations didn’t follow in the Rippers’ footsteps. Now we’ll never get to see the Los Angeles Night Stalkers take on the Milwaukee Dahmers.
7. Coachella Valley High School Arabs
Lest you think only professional and college sports teams are capable of offending huge swaths of the population, we present for your edification the Coachella Valley High School Arabs. Discrimination has to start somewhere, why not at the high school level? Of course, to hear the school’s officials tell the story, the Arab moniker was originally intended as an honorarium of sorts, a way for the Coachella Valley residents to pay tribute to the fierce and noble history of the Arab people.
The school adopted the Arab as its mascot in the 1930s; at the time, the cultivation of date palms was the driving economic factor determining the community’s success. The palms that sustained the community were originally obtained throughout the Middle East, so it is conceivable that the name “Arabs” was originally intended out of respect. But, one look at that mascot and it’s not hard to understand why they changed it to… the Mighty Arab. That’s better.
6. Vancouver Canucks
Believe it or not, there are people who have taken offense to the Vancouver Canucks NHL team, and not just because of their play the past few years. Some people take issue with the name “Canuck,” which is roughly the Canadian equivalent to the term “Yankee.” Far be it from us to editorialize here (just kidding), but this one is a bit of a stretch. Anyone who has ever met an honest-to-goodness Canadian in the wild knows that they are fundamentally incapable of offending you. If the Canucks ever find out their team name is upsetting people, they’ll be the first ones to change it, probably to something like the Vancouver Puppy Smiles (Unless You Don’t Like That, In Which Case Just Call Us Whatever You Prefer, Okay?).
5. University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish
When you think of Irish people, is the first image that springs to mind that of a bunch of drunken Irishmen duking it out, likely over a pot o’gold? No? Well, congratulations! You’re more culturally evolved than one of the most famous universities in the world. The Fighting Irish have been representing the University of Notre Dame and doing their best to uphold hurtful stereotypes since the late 1800s.
The name has never been without controversy, but as loud as its detractors get, its defenders have always been there to answer in kind, and then some. The university and its teams have garnered fiercely loyal followings and they’re never too far away to start shouting down anyone who dares challenge the (lack of) sensitivity of the Fighting Irish moniker. Like it or not, the pugilistic leprechaun isn’t going anywhere soon.
4. Washington Bullets
The NBA’s Washington D.C. franchise today is known as the Wizards. This might seem like a random name, and it likely is. The owners probably just wanted something alliterative and then breathed a collective sigh of relief when the public voted for Wizards instead of Walruses or Waffles. But they had to get away from the old name: the Washington Bullets. The Bullets appellation was always controversial, especially in the mid-90s: Just before the team finally decided to change its name, Washington D.C. had one of the highest homicide rates in the country.
As long as Harry Potter doesn’t start knifing people at Hogwarts, the Washington Wizards probably won’t need to change their name again any time soon.
3. Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians have long been the target of many protests and letter-writing campaigns urging the team to change its name and its logo, the infamous Chief Wahoo. To their credit, the Indians have recently started to de-emphasize the use of Chief Wahoo, replacing it on most team apparel with the letter C. However, Chief Wahoo can still be found all over the Indians’ home stadium and the organization has said it has no plans to change the team’s name to something less offensive.
Even now, Indians fans can still be found at the ballpark, headdresses on and faces painted red, doing the tomahawk chop trying to will their team to victory. Needless to say, they still have a long way to go.
2. New York Red Bulls
This is perhaps the most egregious instance of corporate branding in North American professional sports. Soccer team names have always been kind of ho-hum and unimaginative (see FC Barcelona, for example). But with the Red Bulls, Major League Soccer is clearing the path for corporations to invade professional sports like never before. Naming a team for an energy drink that tastes like equal parts antifreeze and asparagus concentrate is misguided, to say the least. What’s next? The Denver Mountain Dew Code Reds? The Detroit Slim-Jims? Or how about the Tampa Bay Pearls, brought to you by Tampax?
In this case, the team’s name isn’t offensive to any one group of people so much as it is a slap in the face of all decent human beings who resent being marketed to on a nonstop basis.
1. Zulu Cannibal Giants
The Zulu Cannibal Giants were an all-African American baseball team founded in Louisville, Kentucky in 1934. The Cannibal Giants would start most games seriously, before eventually breaking out into pre-rehearsed comedic routines. They were basically baseball’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters, if the Globetrotters engaged in incredibly racist and demeaning behavior and were generally not very good at their sport.
The Zulu Cannibal Giants weren’t your typical baseball team. They wore body and face paint to make themselves look like Ethiopian warriors. They didn’t wear uniforms, per se, instead opting to wear only grass skirts. They always went barefoot and rather than using conventional bats, they used their own handmade clubs that supposedly resembled Africa war weapons. Many black baseball players refused to even play against the Cannibal Giants, contending that mere participation would only serve to strengthen the stereotypes many Americans already held toward black people. Thankfully, the Zulu Cannibal Giants folded soon after baseball’s color barrier was finally broken. Thanks again, Jackie Robinson.
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