Light is Right Joe Campbell

Light is Right Joe Campbell

Yes, in answer to the musical question, I know what it means to miss New Orleans. In 1981, while holidaying there, I sat in on trumpet with two jazz bands at the Famous Door. Not simultaneously. Successively.

Simultaneously would have been understandable, as no one knew what to expect from me. Successively was inexcusable, as everyone knew what to expect the second time round. Anyhow, I survived and the evening climaxed my jazz career, such as it is.

New Orleans also climaxed my football career, such as it is. Not as a participant, as a spectator, albeit via television. Reuben Mayes, a native of my home province, made a name for himself as a running back for the New Orleans Saints. I was as proud of his success as I was of my survival. Well, almost.

Lately, though, I’ve begun to question my previously unexamined pride. I can’t help wondering whether New Orleans demeaned an identifiable group when it named its football team the Saints. That’s what my political mentors say Cleveland did when it named its baseball team the Indians.

Oh, I’ve heard that the football team’s name recognizes New Orleans’ large Catholic population and alludes to the jazz anthem “When the Saints Go Marching In.” But I’ve also heard that the baseball team’s name honours aboriginals and recognizes a former Native American outfielder.

My political mentors dispute this. They allege that the Cleveland name masks a history of exploitation and displacement of aboriginals. Might the New Orleans name mask a history of persecution and martyrdom of saints? I can’t say. My political mentors haven’t told me.

When they do, I hope they also enlighten me about the Angels of Los Angeles, the Cardinals of Arizona and St. Louis, and the Padres of San Diego. Might they also be religious caricatures that demean and offend? I wish I knew.

Defenders of the Arizona and St. Louis teams say that their names refer to birds, not prelates. But defenders of the Washington Redskins have said that their name refers to Boston Tea Partiers with painted faces, not aboriginals. Critics of the Redskins remain unconvinced.

Which reminds me of the hapless souls disciplined by their superiors for saying niggardly. Although it means stingy or miserly, and nothing else, niggardly sounds like a racial slur. In identity politics, apparently, near misses can be as dangerous as direct hits.

As for the Los Angeles Angels, their name is a merger of English and Spanish into a redundant stammer. Rendered in English alone, it becomes The The Angels Angels, which could demean stutterers and embarrass grammarians.

My first love in sports was hockey, not only as a spectator but also as a participant. I persisted as a participant through my initial year of high school, when it became obvious that I was much better at watching than playing. But only to my coach and teammates. To me, it was the other way round. I was convinced that my spectatorship, not my gamesmanship, was faltering.

It began to falter, I told anyone who cared to listen, after peaking when I was barely old enough to notice. Shepherded by my dad, I had watched New York’s National Hockey League teams, the Americans and the Rangers, play an exhibition game in a new arena our city had built. I could scarcely contain my excitement.

I was, of course, too young to suspect that either or both names might offend anyone. I didn’t even suspect it when the New York Americans folded, shortly after becoming the Brooklyn Americans. I wonder if my political mentors uncovered something offensive about New York.

Whatever they found or didn’t find, I want them to tell me whether the Chicago Blackhawks demean aboriginals, the New Jersey Devils offend fallen angels, and the Ottawa Senators shame my country’s capital city.

I also want to know about the Montreal Canadiens and the Vancouver Canucks. Might the French word for Canadians offend Quebec separatists? Might the often derogatory nickname for Canadians offend me?

When I was a boy, my mother told me that, although sticks and stones may break my bones, names will never hurt me. But can they break my spirit? Although the identifiable group I belong to has been demeaned as fundamentalist, for being religious; sexist, for recognizing that men and women differ; homophobic, for telling the truth; and oppressive, for what our ancestors did, I haven’t noticed any breaks yet. Maybe I should consult my political mentors about a lack of angst.  They might be able to help me feel bad about myself.