What’s in a name?
Apparently a lot.
Great West Conference member and long-time institution University of North Dakota was forced to forfeit its mascot and name, the Fighting Sioux, this month as a result of protest from the NCAA and a local Native American tribe.
No word yet on whether animal rights groups will file a similar protest against the South Dakota Coyotes.
North Dakota’s situation raises questions, not the least of which is whether such minority victories will eventually cast their shadow over the likes of the Washington Redskins or the Atlanta Braves.
Clouding UND’s development is that the other local tribe voted in favor of the school keeping the name. Apparently not everyone was offended at a prominent university recognizing the Sioux as a key aspect of the region’s history and culture.
Those protesting the former name did so using words such as “demeaning” and “stereotyping.” Personally, I’d immediately be a fan of any team naming itself after me.
And that’s the point. When fans watch a game, they’re not looking for political statements or reminders about the real world. They’re trying to escape them. There’s a reason former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren uttered my all-time favorite quote:
“I always turn to the sports section first. The sports page records people’s accomplishments; the front page usually records nothing but man’s failures.”
In other words, sports is (or should be) a place removed from the warts and flaws of real life. When the real-life tries to bring its ugly into sports, it’s not welcome. There’s a reason Phoenix Suns fans were incensed when the team sported “Los Suns” jerseys to show opposition to the new state immigration laws passed two years ago. Sports are a less-dangerous form of religion to fans. Fans want that separation of church and state.
There’s a darker side to this that has been brewing nationwide in recent years. Minorities have put up with a lot of crap for a long time.
No denying it. They wanted their rights, and they’ve made a lot of progress in getting them.
Lately, it’s become something more. Instead of getting on even ground, it’s been more about getting even.
Last year two NBA players were seen making homosexual slurs on national television. It was wrong. They were reprimanded, fined thousands of dollars. The players and the teams issued public apologies.
That wasn’t enough. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) said it had reached out to the NBA and the teams of those players “to discuss next steps.”
The thousands of dollars in fines, bad press and public, professional apologies weren’t enough. The players, teams and league were expected/obligated/forced to work with GLAAD with anti-homophobic ads.
There comes a point when instead of looking for public rights, people look for angles to publicly prove they’ve been wronged. The motives are backwards, and sports is the backwards forum for it to happen.
North Dakota proudly – repeat, proudly – sported the name and face of the Sioux for eight decades. Enough Sioux chose to take that as a mark of shame. Now, when Utah Valley’s basketball teams face UND this week, they will simply be playing UND.
All game, no name.
Matt Petersen can be reached at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter @SportsWriter93.
Matt Petersen – Sports Editor