GENE OWENS’ CORNBREAD AND BUTTERMILK: Land of the free and home of the bleep
The New York Mets, bless their tolerant souls, have just bleeped the noun “Braves” out of the politically correct vocabulary. That’s “Braves” as in Atlanta Braves nee Boston Braves, aka Milwaukee Braves.
The Mets were actually trying to spare the feelings of the Atlanta Braves, who might have taken umbrage at scheduled activities intended to honor the American Indian, or Native American, or whatever it is now polite to call the ethnic kin of the people who met the boats when Columbus landed in the Caribbean, John Smith landed at Jamestown and Miles Standish landed at Plymouth Rock.
The Mets had approached the American Indian Community House in New York about the possibility of holding a Native American Heritage Day on July 25 at Citi Field, home of New York’s National League baseball team.
The Indians – I’m going to call them that – whooped for joy – oops! responded enthusiastically – at this opportunity to showcase their culture.
Then some sensitive soul in the Mets organization looked at the schedule. On the day designated as Native American Heritage Day, the Mets were slated to play the Atlanta Braves.
If you’re a rational-minded person you might think: “How appropriate! On the day set aside to honor indigenous Americans, the Mets will be hosts to a team named for the sturdy defenders of Native American culture against encroachment by exotic cultures.”
But rational thinking goes out the window when ethnic issues are involved.
The Mets figured the Braves might take the ceremonies as a form of protest against the nickname the team brought south from Milwaukee in 1966. The Braves adopted their nickname in 1912 while they were in Boston. Their owner, James Gaffney, was a member of Tammany Hall, the New York City political machine, which used an Indian chief as its symbol.
I could understand the Mets not wanting to embrace the image of corruption in their home town, but I don’t think most of us associate “braves” with “graft.”
The American Heritage Dictionary’s definition of the noun is “(1) A Native American warrior” and “(2) A courageous person.” I take both definitions as complimentary, hence a nickname to adopt with pride.
The Mets, though, decided it would be best to play down the association of Native American Heritage Day with Native American culture. Therefore, they cut out the singing and dancing portion of the day’s activities.
The American Indian Community House pulled out of the event in disgust – not at the Atlanta Braves, I trust, but at the wimpish New York Mets.
The Indian brave, I believe, has been granted an honorable place in history, folklore and literature. When the indigenous peoples took up arms in a just defense of their lands and culture, we regarded them as braves. When they went on the warpath, pillaging, scalping and kidnapping, we called them “savages” – a name that could also be applied to the paleface at Wounded Knee and other atrocious sites.
The indigenous tribes are not unanimous in rejecting the use of their names to designate multiracial athletic teams. The Seminoles in Florida fondly share their name with the athletic warriors of Florida State University and have made no effort to persuade the FSU teams to swap their names for something less aggressive, such as the Manatees.
We sometimes have double images of ethnic groups. When the Army of the Potomac was singing “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” we called them Union soldiers. When they were singing “Marching Through Georgia,” we called them “Damyankees.” When I enrolled at the University of Georgia less than a century after Sherman’s destructive march, the University of Georgia’s fight song was (and still is) “Glory to Old Georgia,” sung to the tune of the Yankee “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Many of us have forgiven (though a lot of us haven’t forgotten).
When the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor and herding American captives along the Death March to Bataan, we called them Japs. When they began behaving themselves again, we called them “Japanese,” and gladly drove their cars, watched their TVs, played their video games, and cheered them when they pitched for our baseball teams.
I can’t imagine American Indians remembering their braves with anything less than reverence. The haunting song, “Redwing,” has a verse that goes, “Now the moon shines tonight on pretty Redwing, the breezes sighing, the night winds crying; while afar beneath the stars a brave lies sleeping while Redwing’s weeping her heart away.”
And we can’t honor that brave by naming a baseball team after him and his comrades?
The Mets and their Indian neighbors should have welcomed the Braves to their festivities and invited them to join in.
The Mets, of course, will never have to face the Kansas City Chiefs, who play football, not baseball. But if “Braves” is an inappropriate nickname, surely the “Chiefs” would outrank them in inappropriateness.
If they really want to heap scorn on somebody, why not deride the New York Yankees, named after the people who burned Atlanta and Columbia and laid desolate a 60-mile-wide swath of Georgia.
Or the Pittsburgh Pirates, named after a breed of nautical cut-throats.
Or the Cincinnati Reds, whose name suggests an excessive fondness for socialism (though “Red” has lost a large measure of its leftist meaning since TV political maps have been coloring conservative states in red).
Perhaps our heroes in Atlanta should show some consideration for their National League compatriots in Baghdad by the Hudson. They could call themselves the “Atlanta Bleeps” when they play in Citi Field, and let folks know that the hand signals their fans give are not Tomahawk Chops but practice swings with Louisville Sluggers.
Better yet, they could wipe every trace of culture and tradition from their nickname and call themselves the Atlanta Generics.
Readers may email Gene Owens at WadesDixieco@AOL.com. For more of Gene’s writing, go to www.wadesdixieco.com.
Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.