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Does Anyone Know What a "Phillie" Is?

By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist 

Whatever name the Washington football club decides upon going forward we can agree on at least two things: 1) some people will be upset regardless; and 2) no matter the name, if you think hard enough about it you’ll come to the conclusion that it’s stupid even if it isn’t offensive.  Because, really, can you think of a single team name that isn’t? 

Anybody know what a Phillie is?  Or a Seventy-Sixer?  I know what a flyer is, but I’m assuming the Philadelphia hockey team was named after something other than a pamphlet often utilized to advertise something like plumbing services or cut-rate lawn care.  Or maybe it was.  Either way, it’s ridiculous.

Why do American sports teams need names, anyway?  European football clubs don’t have them and nobody seems to be having any problems telling them apart.  As well, it’s hard to see how fans of FC Barcelona could possibly be more passionate about their club if it was better known as, say, the Broncos.  What’s the point of these idiotic team names?  At best they’re moronic; at worst they’re offensive.  Let’s just get rid of all of them.

There’s nothing more amusing than watching a middle-aged man root for his “Eagles.”  As if the magistery of actual eagles reflects back upon him in some magical way and slathers him in patriotic Philly-centric glory.  Yes, without a doubt the American Bald Eagle is a noble creature.  But what traits can that proud bird possibly share with an organization that once hired Rich Kotite?  And what about the Giants?  How do you feel, saying that your favorite football team is The Giants?  Are you over the age of 12?  If so, you should feel like an idiot.

Sports team names serve no purpose in that the teams are already easy to differentiate by locale and uniform colors.  The name is just a silly add-on that only calls into question everything else about the already shaky experience of fandom.  It’s by nature a bit weird: sitting there watching others play a game.  Monopoly hasn’t caught on as a spectator sport; it’s hard to see how and why baseball has.  Baseball, basketball, football, hockey – they’re all incredibly fun to play.  But really, it’s unclear what you’re watching when you sit down and watch mercenaries from all over the world gather in your city to ostensibly play “for you.” 

It’s sort of like your first few birthday parties, when your mom decided who your friends were and invited them to the pseudo-celebration; they were your friends by fiat only.  These kids were ringers – hired guns brought in under the forced illusion that they somehow had something in common with you or even wanted to be there.  But because there was cake you didn’t think too hard about it. Well enough.  But adding a silly moniker to your artificially curated friend group would have only made everything that much more absurd.  At some point it becomes impossible to ignore the superficial silliness of it all and it overshadows everything else.  And then the party’s over.

Which is where we are right now regarding the Washington football and Cleveland baseball clubs.  Let’s be honest here – their names were always stupid and always offensive.  If you think the current moment is simply an example of millennial political correctness, understand that Stanford University switched its moniker from the Indians to the Cardinal way back in 1972.  Why the Washington football and Cleveland baseball clubs didn’t follow suit a half-century ago is anybody’s guess.  Must’ve been an awful lot of cake.  Finally, in 2020, the cake ran out, leaving nothing but the offensive crumbs.

As for what these teams will be called going forward, I think they ought to follow the European football model and abandon club names altogether.  FC Washington and Cleveland BC adequately identifies them and actually sounds pretty cool to boot.  Or they can try yet another silly name on for size and see how that goes. 

Washington owner Daniel Snyder reportedly is considering names that “honor” the military.  So DC fans may very well have the opportunity to root – this very season -- for the Washington Generals.  Which, as any Harlem Globetrotters fan will tell you, might actually be an apt moniker for an organization that has to answer for not only their historically silly and offensive name but stewards from Snyder to the monument of racism that was their founder, George Preston Marshall.  Truly an historic collection of losers.

Mitch Nathanson's biography of Jim Bouton is out now.


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