Cancel Sports!

When news broke last week that the Washington Redskins football team finally would be renamed, I couldn’t celebrate: I was too worried that this progressive victory might distract us from the fact that the entire enterprise of American sports is a hotbed of bigotry and intolerance.

So it was with great relief that I greeted Karen Attiah’s column in the Washington Post the next day, where this daughter of Ghanan immigrants (Ghana being a model nation with no embarrassing history of indigenous violence) wrote that the Texas Rangers baseball team must also be renamed. 

Attiah helpfully exposes the “myths about Texas Rangers as brave and wholesome guardians of the Texas frontier, helping protect innocent settlers from violent Indians” and sets the record straight—that the Rangers are a hate group roving Tejas in a maniacal quest to exterminate the entirely peaceful indigenous people of color. I echo Attiah’s call to rename the Rangers, but we must keep our eye on the ball, so to speak. 

There is much more work to be done.

The following professional teams need to change their names, logos, and merchandising:

Major League Baseball

New York Yankees: Growing up in western New York, I was proud to be a yankee as a child. Only when I moved to South Carolina at the age of 18 did I learn that “yankee” is a slur used in the American South to denigrate people from the northeast. Years later, upon moving to Texas, I was alarmed to find that the term had been culturally appropriated by people from Mexico and Central America (a reinvented form of “yanquis”) as a derogatory attack on all people residing north of the Mexican border. Hate cannot be allowed in baseball.

Atlanta Braves: Tragically, this team has appropriated the image of the noble leaders of the indigenous resistance movement against European aggression.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Pirates steal the property of others, and thus affirm capitalist notions of property and ownership that were directly responsible for the emergence of the slave trade in the seventeenth century. I propose renaming the team the Pittsburgh Commune.

Cleveland Indians: Easy Fix. Cleveland Natives.

San Diego Padres: This name celebrates the European colonizers who, posing as missionaries bringing the “Good News,” imposed the Christian doctrine of fear and white supremacy as a means to subjugate indigenous peoples.

Cincinnati Reds: While there is no direct evidence that this name was intended as a slur against indigenous peoples, there is no definite evidence that it wasn’t. Someone, somewhere, has to be offended by this. Change it.

National Football League

Buffalo Bills: A team named after a man who fought in the Indian Wars, working to subjugate indigenous peoples to a Eurocentric ethnostate which then awarded him the Medal of Honor for his efforts in the genocide? In 2020?

San Francisco 49ers: This team’s name looks back with romantic nostalgia to the era of western expansion, which was aided by a capitalist gold-lust that brought people from all over the world into indigenous lands. That is to say nothing of the ecological violence inflicted by 19th-century mining techniques which systematically raped and pillaged the natural resources of tribal lands.

Dallas Cowboys: Farming, animal husbandry, and herding—the central activities of the disproportionately-white men called “cowboys”—was another covert means by which the American government forced native peoples out of what would soon become the “American” west. Is this really something we want to honor?

Houston Texans: The fact that this team is called “The Texans” rather than “Los Tejanos” is a testament to the complete erasure of indigenous peoples in Tejas and the linguistic imperialism by which that erasure was accomplished. Until the name is changed, the team is a veritable totem that celebrates white supremacy.

Green Bay Packers: The Packers were so named because they were started with some money granted by the “Indian Packing Company.” I don’t know if the Indian Packing Company was owned by indigenous persons, but I have to assume they weren’t since we all know indigenous persons were not allowed to own property in the United States until Barack Obama’s inauguration. As such, the company that is the team’s namesake was engaged in cultural appropriation and must be denounced.

Kansas City Chiefs: Indigenous American peoples had chiefs. No cultural appropriation.

Las Vegas Raiders: (See Pirates, Pittsburgh)

New England Patriots: This name perpetuates the myth that the men who fought for independence from Britain in 1776 deserve the credit for founding this nation. Given that the true founding was in 1619, I propose calling the team the New England Slave Traders, which would also serve as an overdue acknowledgment of the white privilege embodied by the abolition movement which grew out of New England and its culture of hate.

National Hockey League

The first goal of the NHL should be creating a league that looks like America—one in which all ethnicities exist in equal proportions. The NFL and NBA serve as models to which the NHL can aspire in this regard. Nevertheless, I call for the immediate review of the following team names.

Carolina Hurricanes: Hurricanes disproportionately affect people of color, the poor, and the uninsured and underinsured. That’s not funny.

New York Rangers: Few people know that a man named George Lewis “Tex” Rickard was instrumental in founding this hockey club. Given his central role, people around the organization began to call the team “Tex’s Rangers,” an obvious homage to the notorious white supremacist organization after which the baseball team based in Dallas is named. (See Attiah, Karen).

Colorado Avalanche: Avalanches disproportionately affect white skiers, affluent owners of alpine property, and the over-insured. That’s not funny.

Chicago Blackhawks: The name appropriates the moniker of an indigenous American warrior from the Sauk tribe. Most fans of the Chicago team are non-indigenous.

Anaheim Ducks: In true homage to America’s true God—capitalism—this team was named after a mediocre Hollywood blockbuster about a diverse band of children attempting to play hockey. Unfortunately, it stars Emilio Estevez, a man who re-appropriated a Spanish surname after his father (Ramon Gerard Antonio Estevez, commonly known as “Martin Sheen”) had abandoned it in favor of a name that appeared more stereotypically “Anglo.”

National Basketball Association

Boston Celtics: By glorifying nordic European peoples, this team’s latent Aryanism marginalizes many Boston fans with different heritages.

Philadelphia 76ers: Easy fix. The Philadelphia 19ers.

Portland Trailblazers: More nostalgia for Manifest Destiny and westward Euro-American imperialism. This aggression cannot stand. Deciding on a new name will be contentious. I propose the Portland Riot.

One thing is clear. As we push inexorably toward a fundamental transformation of this country, we cannot leave the world of sports untouched. Because sports explicitly are framed as a diversion from the more pressing concerns of the day, professional sporting leagues encourage a complicity among everyday Americans when it comes to the inhumanity of the current regime. 

For that reason, we cannot ignore the ways that sporting actively perpetuates American inequality. Further, in showcasing and rewarding “excellence,” the world of sport is a tacit endorsement of the meritocratic American “values” that have always served as a cover for the blood and plunder inflicted by white supremacists and their capitalist allies. 

Ghana wasn’t built in a day, and the dismantling of the hatred enshrined in the sporting world won’t be achieved any time soon. But we can begin by eradicating the team names listed above that have long been so painful for so many Americans. #cancelsports

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About Adam Ellwanger

Adam Ellwanger is an associate professor of English at the University of Houston – Downtown where he directs the M.A. program in rhetoric and composition. His new book, Metanoia: Rhetoric, Authenticity, and the Transformation of the Self, will be released from Penn State University Press in 2020. You can follow him on Twitter at @DoctorEllwanger

Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

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