What’s in a Name? Not that Much

What’s in a Name? Not that Much

I have written before about the insanity of people who become unhinged over the naming of athletic teams at various levels of sport. Two years ago, Utah students who were about to attend a new school were asked to name the team mascot. A majority chose “Cougars.” It certainly seemed like a good choice and one that would evoke the ideas of speed, power, and cunning, all qualities an athletic team should aspire to have. A name like “Kittens” would simply not do.

Ah, but there was a problem. Some people in the community were upset that the word cougar also referred to a woman of a certain age seeking the “services” of a younger man. Clearly, in that context, it is a pejorative. Well, the board of education, as many boards do, panicked and forced the students to make a different choice. So, they chose “Chargers,” a name which also carried some negatives with it (See my article “We have a Problem in the Canyon”) but was accepted by the community. At least it wasn’t the “Pink Ponies.”

And now we have another such story. Christine Rousselle, writing for Townhall, reports that Kentucky’s Frederick Douglass High School, which is to open in the fall of 2017, was going to have “Stallions” as its mascot. It seemed to be an appropriate choice, given the school’s geographical proximity to numerous thoroughbred horse ranches. But a local citizen pointed out that a stallion is a male horse used for breeding. Thus, girls would not feel included in the school. So, the citizen began a petition, part of which reads as follows:

This is inappropriate and sexist when you consider the definition from “Your Dictionary”: . . a stallion is a male horse that has not been castrated, used for breeding or is slang for a powerful or virile man who has a lot of lovers” . . . What message does this send to our daughters and granddaughters? Our sons and grandsons?

The petition garnered a mere two hundred signatures. That’s not much, but it was enough for the board to capitulate, and it will give the students a chance to choose a different name. (I know, I know. What if they choose “Stallions”? Did someone say, “Recount”?)

There is more I could say about the inanity of all this, but I would like to focus on a fact that apparently alludes many people with “Mascot Mania”: Athletes don’t identify with their team’s mascot. Let me give you an example.

After graduating college, I began my teaching/coaching career in a small town in southeast Michigan. The team mascot was then, and still is, the “Blue Devils.” It wasn’t always the “Blue Devils.” Being a farming community, years ago the people named their team “The Plowboys.” Well, during World War II, the locals decided that they needed something more intimidating, so they opted for the “Blue Devils.”

In the late 1970s, a group of local Christian fundamentalists decided that having a devil for a mascot, regardless of color, was inappropriate and harmful to the souls of the students. They approached the board of education and urged them to make a change. The majority of the community seemed happy with the mascot, so the board rejected the appeal for change, and soon the issue died.

Perhaps the fundamentalists were unaware that the name “Blue Devils” was chosen because the “Blue Devils” was a famous U.S. bomber squadron during World War II. There was no desire on the part of the citizens back then to honor the devil.

Since I coached football there for many years, I am confident that not one athlete ever saw himself as some kind of devil. I never heard a player say, “I’m a Blue Devil, so I will do evil things and destroy the souls of my classmates and my opponents.” If they had pride, it was in their school and their team, not their mascot. Heck, my high school team name was “Mountaineers,” but I never saw myself as someone who climbs mountains.

Which brings us back to Frederick Douglass High School. It is foolish to believe that athletes at this school, especially the boys, would think to themselves, “Ooh! I’m a stallion, and therefore I am going to breed as many children as I can.” Or “I’m a stallion, so I have to have sex with as many girls as I can.” Sadly, some boys may want to do such a thing, but it will have nothing to do with the team mascot.

If this mascot silliness continues, it won’t be long before a man on trial for assault will use the “Mascot Defense”: “Your Honor, I admit I beat the man severely, but in college I played football for the Fighting Irish. I am not responsible for my actions.” Not possible? I hope you’re right.

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Written by
Thomas Addis