What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, at least according to William Shakespeare. So, if labels are so superfluous, why is it so hard to change something as seemingly trivial as a team's mascot?
By now, some of you may see where I'm going with this — as there has been much controversy in recent years about professional sports teams identified by slang terms for Native Americans (i.e. the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, etc.).
Recently, Major League Baseball issued a statement that Cleveland's Chief Wahoo logo is no longer acceptable for use — and the team is complying, with plans to phase out the imagery (an often-deemed offensive caricature of a Native American) by the 2019 season. But why stop there? If you can change iconography associated with your franchise for so long, how hard is it to go whole hog and change the team name as well?
For those that would say a mascot is a mascot is a mascot — that the team's name is what it is, and if it's been this way for this long why change — let me point out that changing names is not unheard of among professional sports franchises. Just a few short years ago, the National Basketball Association's Charlotte Bobcats retook the Hornets moniker (after the New Orleans expansion team gave up the name), while the MLB has seen its fair share of rebranding as well.
Most of those new team identities in baseball were set more than a century ago, but one of the most recent name changes also seems most relevant to the current conversation — with the Houston Colt .45s becoming the Houston Astros just a few years after the franchise's creation. Can you imagine the backlash that would exist if the Colt .45s still existed today?
Houston was established as an MLB expansion team in 1962, but in 1965 ownership decided to rebrand as the team got ready to move into its new home stadium, settling on a name that celebrated the city's soon-be-iconic status as a hub of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration — and thus, the Astros were born.
Examples like Houston are the biggest argument, I think, for a name change. Why remain beholden to a generic mascot like the Indians when you have so much history and culture to celebrate in your city? The Astros are a good example, as are the former Seattle Supersonics (RIP) of the NBA and the NFL's San Francisco 49ers or Pittsburgh Steelers.
You know what comes to mind when I think of Cleveland (I mean, besides futility)? The friggin' Rock and Hall Hall of Fame! How about becoming the Cleveland Rocks? Just look to the NHL's St. Louis Blues for some new logo inspiration and make sure you have Drew Carey and The Presidents of the United States of America on hand for the unveiling of the new nickname.
As far as Washington is concerned, how the Redskins have continued to exist in the nation's epicenter of political correctness is ironic. Given the rich tapestry of history in our nation's capital, how that was not celebrated some way in the team's identity is beyond me. Or, as my editor suggested, maybe they should just adopt the moniker of the professional franchise from the film "The Replacements," the Washington Sentinels — and have their starting quarterback legally required to change his name to Shane "Footsteps" Falco.
Look, if branding and merchandising is your main reason for adhering to a mascot and team name (in the face of a growing group of detractors), then I think you're standing on some shaky ground. You don't think a passionate fan base would support a new identity? You don't think a passionate fan base would like to have a role in choosing that new identity?!?
Current crowdsourcing of mascot ideas for a Canadian Football League expansion team in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been a topic of discussion in The Kansan newsroom of late. Maybe that's why I'm so hung up on team names and the idea of fostering new identities.
Personally, as a Kansas Jayhawk, I'm one of one — to borrow a recent advertising slogan from Dr. Pepper — so I'm all for having a unique mascot to set your fan base apart. We need more Jayhawks, more Swathers and more mascots that tell their own, rich stories that can be celebrated.
According to a MaxPreps article from 2012, Indians is the fourth most common mascot among Kansas high schools (and one of the top 15 nationally). Do I think that is going to change overnight? No, that would be foolish, but cases like Cleveland's or Hiawatha High School (in northeast Kansas) — which changed its nickname from the Redskins to the more distinct Red Hawks several years ago — should be taken as positive signs that perhaps more change is to come and maybe the Cleveland Rocks (three, four!) era will be a reality in the near future.
-Kelly Breckunitch is a general assignment/county reporter for The Kansan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.