News National Redskins, Arabs and Rippers: Sports teams are more than a name
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Redskins, Arabs and Rippers: Sports teams are more than a name

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What’s in a name?

For sporting teams, the brand can carry generations of history as well as the hopes, dreams and the heartaches of millions of fans.

It can be the embodiment of a truly intimate experience shared between families, friends and complete strangers over the course of a lifetime.

But a name can also be more problematic.

For the team-formerly-known-as-the-Washington Redskins in the US National Football League (NFL), the issue is at the surface level.

The decision to drop the old name and become Washington Football Team came after years of pressure from sponsors – and amid criticism that the term ‘redskins’ and the accompanying logo of an Indian chief’s head, is insulting to Native American people.

The team will keep its signature colours of burgundy and gold, but will retire the logo immediately.

In North America, professional sports team names referring to Native Americans or Inuit people were established by their team’s white founders, said Daryl Adair, associate professor of sport management at the University of Technology Sydney.

“Whether deliberate or not, these nicknames have provided a faux connection to a colonial past in which minority groups were simply obstacles to the inherent ‘righteousness’ of European annexation of land,” Dr Adair said.

“The monikers trivialise what is actually the devastating impact to native communities of aggressive conquest on the part of Europeans.”

Yet there have been egregious examples which were innocently intended.

The Frisco High School, based in the small Texas town, were known as the “Fighting Coons” for nearly 80 years.

The water tower in Frisco, Texas. Photo: Pixel

The name was deemed deeply offensive to people of coloured backgrounds.

But the origin of the name had no racial intent – the team took its name from a former student’s pet raccoon back in 1924.

Seriously.

The team rebadged themselves as the Fighting Raccoons from 2012 but it didn’t come without the town’s mayor acquiescing to the renaming.

Lisa Annese, chief executive of Diversity Council Australia, said the meaning of some words can change over time.

“I think that it’s okay to recognise that perhaps we named things in an era where there was less awareness about the impact of particular words, or maybe even the words themselves meant something different,” Ms Annese said.

The Washington Redskins’ name change reflects a heightened awareness of the impact of racist language, she said.

This is not – as some might suggest – “political correctness gone mad”.

Instead, it shows “we want to move forward to a place where we can have a society where we don’t tolerate racism anymore”, Ms Annese said.

In California’s arid southwest, the Coachella Valley High School struck a comprise over anger at it’s decades-old mascot.

For more than 80 years, fans of the Coachella Valley High School Arabs football team rallied behind an Arabic caricature with a snarling face, hooked nose, heavy beard and wearing a headscarf.

The adoption of the Arabs name was due to the desert region’s Mideast-like landscape.

sports names
Coachella Valley High kept the Arab name, but drastically changed the mascot

In 2014, the school agreed to lose the caricature, but retained the name, altering to the Mighty Arabs with a more pleasing likeness.

But it’s not just historical examples of teams making questionable decisions – and it’s not just in the United States.

The London Rippers logo on the outfield wall. Photo: Getty

A professional baseball team in London, Canada, made headlines back in 2007 when its name and logo closely resembled Jack the Ripper.

The “London Rippers” logo featured a nefarious-looking man with a top hat, cloak and with a baseball bat – in likeness to the notorious serial killer who murdered women in the Britain’s London through the 1880s.

The new logo was introduced with the tagline: “Lurking in Labatt Park this spring,” The Huffington Post reported.

The team was disbanded in 2012, six days after an eviction notice was posted on the door of its team store for failing to pay rent.