Golden State bans offensiveness

By Michael Ackley

(Note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.)

By 2010 California had conquered offensiveness – at least in the public sector.

After the bellwether Jerry Ballesteros Act of 2004, a succession of laws followed, banning the public-school use of offensive nicknames and mascots.

The Paddy O’Scanlon Act forbade school teams to call themselves the Celts or the Celtics, the Hibernians, the Shillelagh Slingers or the Bog Trotters.

The Sven Hanson Act similarly eliminated the Vikings, the Norsemen and the Squareheads.

The Donald MacDonald Act foreclosed the Highlanders, the Claymores and the Penny Pinchers.

The Mustafa Kemal Act shut out the Turks, the Moors and the Saracens.

These were followed by the Bill Liu Act, the Nissan Matsushita Act, the Blas Guzman Act, the Ivan Kerensky Act and the Singh Singh Act.

Even the Jewish lobby got into the act, prevailing on the Legislature to ban naming teams the Goliaths, the Hebrews or the Joshuas – even though nobody knew of any teams with such names.

Each piece of legislation followed the format of the Ballesteros Act, which made it illegal for public educational institutions, right up through the collegiate level, to name their athletic teams Redskins, Indians, Braves, Chiefs, Apaches, Comanches, Papooses, Warriors, if accompanied by Native American Imagery, including, but not limited to, a mascot, Sentinels, if accompanied by Native American Imagery, including, but not limited to, a mascot, or “any other Native American tribal name.”

The law declared such athletic team names, mascots or nicknames in California public schools “antithetical to the California school mission of providing an equal education to all,” noting the use of such names singled out the “Native American/American Indian community for the derision to which mascots or nicknames are often subjected.”

It did not bother any of the legislators voting for it that no evidence was adduced to show that mascots or nicknames were, in fact, subject to derision, nor did it seem to trouble anybody that the act allowed the use of Indian nicknames and mascots in “Indian Country” or if the pertinent Indian nation said it was OK.

As one legislator said, “If a white guy like me names a team the Apaches, it’s derogatory, but if the Apaches say it’s all right to name a team the Apaches, clearly it is not derogatory.”

Naturally, the Legislature was somewhat bogged down as California’s multifarious ethnic groups lobbied through their anti-derogation bills, but as the lawmakers became more sensitive, they quickly took care of the Armenians, Mongolians, various Pacific Islanders, the spectrum of Asian nationalities and central Europeans.

Democrats and Republicans alike breathed a collective sigh of relief when it appeared the final ethnic group had been taken care of, but then the animal-rights organizations took up the cry.

“You may think it’s acceptable to call an athletic team the Cougars,” said Amy Handleman of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, “but a few human deaths aside, these are beautiful, shy creatures who are endangered by schools and teams that play on a false image of their ferocity.”

To save time, the Legislature banned the use of animal names as school nicknames or mascots.

Even Stanford University could not escape. Stanford, which decades earlier had abandoned the nickname “the Indians” and dropped its regal Chief Lightfoot mascot, had to change its nickname.

“The Cardinal” might refer to the bird rather than the color, the university was told, and its tree mascot, besides being bird habitat, looked very like an endangered, old-growth redwood. Besides, Roman Catholics might be offended.

Thus, the Cardinal became the Deep-Red Color.

Stanford’s arch-rival in athletics, the University of California, Berkeley, fared somewhat better, quickly switching from the Golden Bears to the Nobel Laureates.

Although duplication in the K-12 schools caused some confusion, educators agreed it was better to have several teams named the Luther Burbanks and the Edwin Markhams than to risk offense.

The legislator most responsible for the deluge of protective laws was Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, who said she was far from exhausted by the work.

“Next we’ll be working to craft laws banning the state and its institutions from contracting with companies that have offensive names,” she said. “We’re already taking a hard look at Intel. Do they mean to imply they’re smarter – they have more ‘intel’ – than other people? That could be hurtful to stupid people.

“In fact, I already know several legislators besides myself who are offended.”