This afternoon I watched the 2nd half of a terrific NCAA tournament game between two very talented and well-coached teams, the Marquette Warriors and the Butler Bulldogs. There were quite a few lucky breaks and close calls coming down the stretch that could have gone either way — with each team getting their share of good and bad breaks — and in the end Marquette won by a whisker, 74-72.
The outcome was somewhat pleasing; I admit to a slight preference for Marquette, as it is one of those small schools that often fills the role of giant slayer, frequently doing quite well in the big tournament. In fact, in 1977, they won the tournament and were national champions. Oh, and since Marquette is located in downtown Milwaukee — and that’s where I grew up (actually in a ‘burb on the near north side) — I’ve always been partial to the Marquette Warriors.
Oops, did I say “Warriors” again? That’s a slip. They are called the Marquette “Golden Eagles.” However it was the Marquette “Warrors” who won the national championship 36 years ago. In an early wave of political correctness, and not wishing to offend anyone, Marquette University was one of those schools who changed their name from an American Indian name to something more neutral. Another school that did this was Arkansas State University — where I earned my undergraduate degree — who changed their name from “Indians” to “Red Hawks.”
Soon after the Golden Eagles victory today there came news that Wichita State had beaten heavily favored Gonzaga (another tiny school that often does quite well in basketball). Wichita State’s team name? The Shockers. The name does not come from their propensity to “shock” other teams like Gonzaga with unexpected performance and wins, but rather to their history of “shocking” or “harvesting” wheat.
That reminded me of an article I read in the paper this morning about the NHL hockey season, something I rarely do — hockey is one big yawn to me. So much for my Canadian heritage. Anyway, it seems as the Colorado Avalanche (another weird name) are abysmally bad this year. For them the lockout mercifully limited their misery this season, and the misery of their fans, too. They are so bad, they might even get 1st pick in the next amateur draft. The player they would most likely pick is Colorado native Seth Jones, who currently plays on a junior hockey team called the Portland Winterhawks. Winterhawks?
Cruise up I-5 a few hours to Seattle and you’ll find football’s Seahawks. What are Winterhawks and Seahawks? Those sound more like American Indian names than sports or animal names, don’t they?
Down in the Bay Area, Stanford’s teams are named for a color. They are the Cardinal. Not the Cardinals; the Cardinal.
From there slide over to the coast and the University of California at Santa Cruz has named their athletes the Banana
Slugs. Really? What a disgusting creature, sliming wherever they go and for some reason getting themselves stuck inside discarded beer containers. And it doesn’t look the least bit intimidating: he’s carrying a book (by Plato!) and wearing glasses. What is it going to do? Defeat them with logic and dialog?
It does get weirder though. The Community College of Scottsdale (AZ) are the Fighting Artichokes. Just across Phoenix in Tempe, the Arizona State athletes are Sun Devils … now a Dust Devil is a rather cool weather phenomenon, but they mess it up by being Sun Devils — whatever that is — and having a mascot who looks like Satan. Really? Well, not to be outdone, across the country in North Carolina, Wake Forest University (another little school that often does well in basketball) are the Demon Deacons. Ok, now you’ve got one team who is represented by Satan, and another by someone who is preaching and doing Satan’s work here on earth. Oy weh!
In the end, it doesn’t really matter, does it? It’s just like people’s names, whether they be Tom, Dick and Harry, or LaToya, DeWayne, Shaquile, Lemonjello, Manti, Wyntyr, Muffi, Buffy, Chrystee, Jaxon, Stanley-Ann, or Barack. The right thing to do is call people or schools what they want to be called, try to pronounce it they way they would, and everyone just go about their business.
Joe Girard © 2013
Afterthought: Butler used to be called “The Christians.” I wonder if they ever played the Lions (Columbia, Penn state, Loyola Marymount, and others) or the Demon Deacons.