Jeffrey Phelps, AP
Times change, attitudes change and — sometimes, but not always — the nicknames of sports teams change along with them.
The U.S. Patent Office’s decision to cancel six federal trademark registrations the Redskins own on the grounds that the team’s nickname is disparaging to Native Americans may not be enough to compel the team to rename itself. Team owner Daniel Snyder has said repeatedly he never will change the name and the NFL, so far, has stood behind him.
So what’s in a nickname, anyway? Teams have morphed identities for as long as organized sports have existed. The Chicago Cubs, for example, were originally known as the White Stockings (and later the Colts and Orphans, among other names) before settling on their current nickname in 1903.
Some names have a way of sticking with a team, even when logic would suggest otherwise. When the NBA’s New Orleans franchise relocated to Utah in 1979, the team retained the nickname Jazz, though that form of music is hardly associated with Salt Lake City.
Minneapolis’ NBA franchise moved from the land of 10,000 lakes to Los Angeles in 1960, and the Lakers name came along for the ride. The Tennessee Oilers held on to their nickname for two seasons after moving from Houston before changing to the less geographically specific Titans.
Other once-acceptable names become less so as societal attitudes evolve; what once seemed harmless later looks careless and insensitive when viewed in a new light.
Former Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian, 91, recalls when his alma mater Miami of Ohio was urged to change its school’s nickname from the Redskins to the RedHawks in 1997.
Parseghian was a two-way back for Miami in 1948 and ’49 and he coached the team from 1950-55 before moving on to Northwestern (1956-63) and Notre Dame (1964-74).
“Even after they passed that (measure), there were still those who always wanted to remain Redskins,” Parseghian said. “Then the RedHawks is what it was changed to. It was very similar to the Washington Redskins owner.
“It didn’t take too long to become accustomed to (the name change), but it was so controversial. Some former players always wanted to be known as Redskins instead of RedHawks. ...
“It was never the intent to offend anybody. (The Washington Redskins) have a stubborn owner.”
Marquette University has had several colorful nicknames, including the Blue and Gold, the Hilltoppers and the Golden Avalanche (go figure). They changed the name to Warriors in 1954, inspired in part by Major League Baseball’s Boston Braves relocating to Milwaukee. At the time the city had a definite theme going — the NBA team was named the Hawks and the minor league hockey team was named the Chiefs. None of those teams still play in Milwaukee today; baseball’s Braves are in Atlanta, as are the NBA’s Hawks (after a stop in St. Louis). The Chiefs lasted only three seasons in the International Hockey League before folding in 1954.
Marquette introduced a cartoonish tomahawk-wielding new mascot, Willy Wampum, in 1961, but he had disappeared by the mid-’70s when the basketball team was rising into a national championship contender. A more restrained logo replaced Willy’s image depicting a warrior in profile.
Marquette dropped Warriors as a nickname for its sports teams in 1993 and chose Golden Eagles over Lightning.
In 2005, the school’s board of trustees considered switching back to Warriors in an effort to recall the school’s glory days as a basketball power. One prominent alumnus and board trustee told the school that he and a fellow trustee were willing to donate $2 million to the school if they would go back to the Warriors nickname.
Thinking better of it, the board decided instead to float another alternative: The Gold.
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