Steve’s post about the controversy over the Washington Redskins’ name made me think about the nicknames of European soccer teams and their supporters. Followers of Dundee United, a decent team in a poor league, call themselves the Arabs. The name has no political content, although in recent times Scotland turned strongly against Israel.
Supporters of Ajax, a Dutch superpower and until about 15 years ago a European superpower too, are called the Jews. Few of them are Jewish, but the team’s stadium was once located in a Jewish neighborhood.
Rival fans have been known to chant, “Stand up if you hate the Jews”. There’s a joke that the Ajax fans respond by starting to stand up until they realize they are the Jews.
That’s unfair, though. As I understand it, Ajax fans embrace the nickname. But the club has discouraged this because it seemed to produce even more racist taunting from opposing fans, which made the team’s few real Jewish supporters uncomfortable.
I should add that the name “Redskins” is more offensive than “Jews” or “Arabs.” The Native American counterpart to those nicknames is “Indians.”
Of course, activists object to that name as well. Indeed, both my college (Dartmouth) and my law school (Stanford) long ago abandoned that name for their sports teams.
Should Washington’s football team follow suit? The name “Redskins” is unfortunate, and I wouldn’t be outraged by a change.
But as a traditionalist and a longtime Redskins fan, I would rather not see a name-change in response to pressure that seems more like a power play by activists (see above) than the product of outrage well-founded enough to warrant disturbing the status quo.