What’s in a name?

As with most pivotal moments in popular culture, the entire situation comes down to opinions, which is good in some hard-to-define way. We’re entitled to our opinions by the Constitution and, more than that, we’re allowed to have opinions because it’d be a dick move if we weren’t. And if we all agreed on everything, there’d be no such thing as opinions, just facts piled up on a pretty boring landscape.

But there are of course opinions and facts here. Also, there’s greed and politics and political correctness and racism within the debate about the name that is currently listed for the football team that resides in Washington, D.C.

I’m not going to pretend to be a trademark lawyer or even claim to know anything deeper than the fundamentals about the case. What I do know is that there are two sides, probably more than that, if we’re counting the people who don’t care or haven’t given it one minute of thought. Some people stand on the side of, essentially, if it’s considered vulgar or offensive to some people then perhaps the name should be changed; the other camp, probably the louder and more serious of the two sides, would prefer to see the name remain the same. History and all that, or whatever their rationale.

This is, of course, a matter of opinions more than anything else and I’d like to acknowledge that my bias in this case is fairly evident, just because my line of questioning would be less, um, probing of the former stance. I’d ask, “Why do you think the Washington football team should change their name?” There’d be a standard answer, which I myself would probably give, that, if it is offensive to some people, then change it. To me, it seems simple. We don’t choose what’s offensive to people. We don’t even choose what’s offensive to us. It’s more of a visceral and deep-rooted response.

For the other side, I guess my series of questions would go like this: What, as a Washington football fan who supports keeping the name, is so important about the name? Is it, as I suspect, a “We’re not giving in to political correctness” stance, or is it something deeper than that? If so, what? If you’re not “giving in to” political correctness, why not? If the name is deemed offensive only to one person, shouldn’t a name change be at least considered? How many people would need to be offended before you supported a name change? Is it a historical stance? Do you just want nothing to change ever, even if it’s for the benefit of others?

As for political correctness, perhaps the feeling is that we’re going “too far.” People can go to far with anything and I don’t think political correctness is immune. I’m setting “too far” for political correctness at “when they change the name of Cracker Barrel because it offends people.” Either way, this is probably a matter of political correctness, the same way we stopped using some pretty hateful and ignorant words against blacks or Jews or homosexuals.

A keep-the-name-the-same supporter I know lamented too much political correctness to me recently at a party. “We’re trying too hard to make everyone happy,” he said. I found this to be an odd philosophy. It implied, to me, that we shouldn’t be trying to make everyone happy. It implied, especially, that if we’re not trying to make his side happy, we’re doing the wrong thing. We’re going too far.

This, of course, is a pretty poor attitude to have. We’re going to win some, we’re going to lose some in this life. In small and large victories, our side will be victorious and our side will falter, sometimes in spectacular fashion. For some reasons we haven’t been able to settle this internally. In my experience, the side to be on is that side to which there are easier answers to the question, “Why not?” Why not change the name? Why not let women vote? Why not allow same-sex marriage?

Maybe I'm the jerk here ... (I can't actually find the date here for this, but I still think 22% is the more significant number)

Maybe I’m the jerk here … (I can’t actually find the date here for this, but I still think 22% is the more significant number)

I went to a college whose football team was referred to, for a time, as the “Stubby Christians.” After that, the “Chieftains.” As names go, they were first ridiculous then short-sighted and offensive. They’re now the Pride, as in a group of lions, but the name is fitting for a school that has passionate group of alumni.

Our goal should be the pursuit of individual happiness, so long as that happiness doesn’t infringe upon the happiness of others. We shouldn’t cause injury — physical or otherwise — to someone in  order to attain some level of pleasure. That sandwich sure would taste good right now, but I’m not going to pry it from the hands of that woman. And so that’s the message.

My wife is a 6th grade teachers and tells me not to be “fresh,” as she would the 12-year-olds within her charge. What she means is, “Don’t be a dick.” I’m not trying to preach or sound pious, but the goal here should be to enjoy our time here and that’s done by living in some semblance of harmony. We are not all going to get along. We’re not all going to share the same interests or political views or opinions. There are bound to be people with whom we simply do not get along with. That’s fine.

But if changing the name of a football team — a football team is what we’re debating here — means that we are conceding our own happiness (I’m looking at you, “keep the name” crowd) for someone else’s in some small, essentially insignificant way, isn’t it worth it?

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2 responses to “What’s in a name?”

  1. Ryan says :

    Would it be enough to change the name and logo and not the colors?

    I think the keep it the same crowd has made their investment in the tea mby purchasing jerseys painting living rooms and brainwashing their offspring.

    I’m thinking about the goodwill (accounting term) of the team name. How was the fan base impacted when the colts left Baltimore. Are all Baltimore fans now ravens fans? How long did it take to regain the fan base?

    • matthewmosgood says :

      I believe you could easily change the name and logo while keeping the colors. We do know that this is — as it always is — partially about bottom line and, at this point, is going to be about minimizing that damage.

      Changing the name is the right thing to do, in my opinion. Fans will adjust. Their team isn’t leaving, just undergoing a change. Eventually, the “still the Redskins to me” crowd will fade away. Imagine a team name that offended a majority portion of African-Americans? It’s crazy to me that this is even an argument.

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