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SKIPPER: In search of the politically correct name

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Mason City High School sports teams have been the Mohawks forever, it seems, but maybe not for much longer.

The School Board and administrators are contemplating a mascot change because of the apparent unintentional offensive connotation it has to the Mohawk Indian nation.

John Skipper

Skipper

We are living in an age of political correctness that has seen the manufacturers of the “Mr. Potato Head” kids toy change the name of the product to just “Potato Head” to make it more inclusive. Now, PETA, the organization dedicated to animal protection, wants professional baseball to stop calling the areas where pitchers warm up as “bullpens” for a reason that escapes me for the moment.

A clergyman giving the invocation at the beginning of Congress this year ended it by saying “Amen … and A-Women.”

Where does it all end? When do we say, enough is enough?

One of the dilemmas Mason City school officials face is not only dropping the name “Mohawks” but figuring out how to do the rebranding without offending someone, somewhere.

Consider the situation of the former Washington Redskins football team. After years of feeling pressured to rename the team, the ownership relented and agreed to change the nickname last year. But to what? Officials could not agree on a name change so the team is now known as just the Washington “Football Team.”

The Cleveland Indians have changed their name to the Guardians – and now face a possible lawsuit from a roller derby team that claims to have a copyright on the “Guardian” name.

Sports teams have fought image problems for a long time. The Cincinnati Reds baseball team changed its name for several years in the 1950s. During the height of McCarthyism and accusations of Communist infiltration into American organizations, the Reds became known as the Cincinnati “Redlegs” from 1953 to 1959 after which ownership felt safe to going back to the original nickname.

The Tampa Bay baseball team was known as the Devil Rays from its inception in 2000 until 2008 when “Devil” was removed from the nickname.

I am currently involved in a fascinating adult Sunday School class in which characteristics of different generations are being explored. I’m sure I am a part of the “older generation” which has a tendency to think in absolutes – right is right, wrong is wrong, truth is truth. It is my generation that probably wonders what’s the big deal over nicknames and mascots and the like. No harm, no foul, we would say.

I had a conversation recently with a female family member who is part of the younger generation -- Generation X I think they call it, a little beyond the Baby Boomer generation.

What’s the concern over all of this political correctness, I asked.

She said there is a big difference between the Potato Head and bullpen references as opposed to the Indian names.

“With the Indian names,” she said, “you are dealing with people, an entire segment of people who find certain words offensive.”

She said to me if you referred to a friend by a nickname he found offensive, even if you did it unintentionally, wouldn’t you stop using that nickname once you learned it was offensive?

I’ve been chewing on that one for a while.

In the meantime, here’s my suggestion for a name change for the Mohawks that is politically correct, sensitive to people’s feelings and incorporates part of the history of Mason City.

Let’s call them “the 76ers.”

COLLECTION: The latest from John Skipper

Check out some of columnist John Skipper's most-read recent columns:

John Skipper retired from the Globe Gazette in February 2018 after 52 years in newspapers, most of that in Mason City covering North Iowa government and politics.

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