Like fledgling rock groups, sports teams seem to be running out of self-respecting names to call themselves. But while annoyingly named musicians like Crash Test Dummies and Poi Dog Pondering have no one to blame but themselves, the shortage of good team names has been accelerated by concerns over cultural sensitivity. Across the country, teams at the grade-school, high-school, and college levels are turning in their Indian names—Braves, Apaches, etc.—for names that can’t offend any still-existing community, like the Trojans. Only professional teams, most notably Washington’s own Redskins and the Atlanta Braves, have—to considerable protest—bucked the trend.
Yet when Richard Myles set out to name his National Minor Football League team, he decided to go with an old gridiron standard, the Chiefs, already used by the NFL’s Kansas City team. Although well aware of the controversy still smoldering over the Redskins’ moniker, Myles somehow figured the nickname was safe from attacks from Native American rights groups. “We’re not insulting anyone,” says the former Cardozo High and Arizona State star linebacker. “ “Chiefs’ can stand for a lot of things, like leadership. And especially in these days, we need a lot of leadership in the community.” Nevertheless, Myles ran into a different sort of trouble when he was told the team’s logo—an arrowhead—too closely resembled that of its NFL namesake. Wary of trademark infringement, the Washington Chiefs played their first season (4-5-1) wearing blank, red helmets.
But next year, the team will boast a logo (pictured) designed by Myles’ wife. The copyrighted emblem features a pair of crossed tomahawks protecting the team’s initials. The Atlanta Braves’ baseball fans are still reprimanded in some quarters for their synchronized, stadiumwide, Jane Fonda-led “Tomahawk Chop,” but Myles—always the optimist—expects no protests about the Chiefs’ logo, which he considers fairly tame compared to that of franchises like the Skins. No word yet on who (or what) will be the Chiefs’ mascot.
While the Chiefs did not bow to the wishes of Native Americans, grammarians can take heart that the proposed name for the Chiefs’ cheerleading squad, the Tribettes, was nixed by the coordinator. “It didn’t make any sense,” says Ann Simon, noting that a collective noun and “-ette” don’t mix. The squad, whose members will be chosen this spring, will be instead called the Washington Chiefs’ Show Troop.
Composed of young, ex-college hopefuls, Myles’ team will again play its home games at Cardozo High, where it won two games last season—two more than the Redskins won at RFK Stadium. Other members of the National Minor League continue the tradition of poorly named teams, such as the Lewiston (Maine) Sabres, the Connecticut Indians, the Dover Destroyers, and 1994 league champions the Charlotte Blast.
But there is hope. The Atlanta team is called the Cannibals. Now that’s hip, baby. Remember Cannibal & the Headhunters and their immortal hit “Land of 1000 Dances”? Sure, it was just a cover, but those were the days when garage bands had decent names (Mouse and the Traps, the Count Five) and sports teams did too.
Washington Wildebeests, anyone?