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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Eskimos don't like Eskimos

Posted 1/05/16 (Tue)

Anyone who attended the University of North Dakota or attends it now, knows about changing a nickname and all the ramifications that go with it.

There’s no doubt we’ve been dragged through the mud by the NCAA and if you remember, this all started with the NCAA when the new Englestad Arena was in the process of being built

 Before he died, Ralph Englestad  said he would tear the building down if the NCAA forced UND to change its nickname. In fact, he had bulldozers standing by waiting for the order.

Then came the governor endorsing the nickname and the NCAA pushed him around like they were some kind of school yard bully.

After that, it was lawsuits, then a committee to choose a new name, then we chose our favorites, then the president of the university arbitrarily removed one of those choices and finally, “The Fighting Hawks, probably the most generic name in all of college sports.

We went through all this but Florida State didn’t have to go through the same thing, presumably because the Tallahassee university generates lots of money with its sports programs.

You walk into any store in the state of Florida, that sells clothing, other than Gainsville, and you’ll see gear with the word “Seminoles” and graphics of an Indian chief’s head, very similar to what UND was forced to remove.

And, if you didn’t know this, it was the Florida State Seminole fans that started the tomahawk chop chant that we’ve often seen at Atlanta Braves baseball games.

Only four other college teams besides the Seminoles were allowed to keep their nicknames because they got permission from the local Indian tribes, including the Utes that are based in Salt Lake City.

Now all this madness is creeping into professional sports. For a number of years, there have been protests to change the name of the Washington Redskins.

The Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians, the Golden State Warriors, the Chicago Blackhawks and Kansas City Chiefs are all teams that critics consider hostile and abusive.

And now there’s a Canadian Football League team in Edmonton under fire because it uses the nickname of Eskimos.

Apparently, the Inuit people don’t like the nickname and they want it changed or removed.

This announcement was made just two days before the Grey Cup championship on Nov. 29 in which the Edmonton Eskimos beat the Otttawa RedBlacks, 26-20.

Here’s what I don’t understand about this. The Eskimos have been in the CFL since 1949 and have become one of the most successful sports franchises in North America.

In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the Eskimos won five consecutive Grey Cups and nobody dissented the nickname, nobody. It was never a problem, until now.  Why now? Why not in 1954 when the Eskimos won their first title?

This has all become completely overblown. All of these teams, including UND, have played for decades without being hostile and abusive and suddenly all these nicknames are derogatory.

But here are some names that apparently don’t offend anybody, the Maori All Blacks, Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, Nashville Predators, Milwaukee Brewers and Indigenous All Stars.

The Tampa Bay baseball team used to be called the “Devils Rays,” but changed its name in 2008 to “Rays.”

There are rumors about why the name was changed; No. 1, it was a stingray that killed Australian crocodile hunter Steve Irwin in 2006 and because Irwin was a popular figure worldwide, somebody might think Devil Rays condones his death, and No. 2, people in the Bible belt didn’t like the word “devil” in the name so it had to be changed.

Well then, the New Jersey Devils in hockey better change their nickname or God is going to strike them down by lightning.

What comes next, animal nicknames because PETA doesn’t like them, names in nature because we can’t condone climate change or military nicknames because we can’t be giving the enemy information about our team?

It all boils down to a mess that was manufactured by the NCAA and didn’t have to happen.

In UND’s case, the name UND or North Dakota was far better accepted at UND and in the sports world than any other nickname.

And during hometown hockey games, the fans boo when the name Fighting Hawks is announced.

The NCAA started this mayhem but it will never control professional sports teams like Eskimos.