what team(s) should i root for: episode iii

May 1, 2006 at 5:21 pm | Posted in brian, misc | 2 Comments

in “postmodernism and the consumer society,” fredrich jameson dwells on two features of postmodernism: “the transformation of reality into images and the fragmentation of time into a series of perpetual presents.” these two features, jameson argues, leads to “the disappearance of a sense of history.” this shift from reality to images and time as a series of presents speeds historical experiences into the distant past; left in its place are nostalgic pop-images and stereotypes about the past while the past “remains forever out of reach.”

the same disappearance of a sense of history shows up in the names of professional sports teams. even though i have never participated in the naming of a sports team–a professional sports team that is–i imagine those who choose nicknames for sports teams are careful and deliberate. whether a nickname reflects hoped for characteristics, like the ferocious stength of a lion or the kinetic energy of electricity (i’m guessing that’s what the chargers are all about), or whether the nickname reflects the uniqueness of its city, team names are chosen purposefully. the minor league baseball team located in salt lake city is called the bees. this grows out of the state emblem–a beehive–which grows out of an obscure reference in the book of mormon. in other words, the name locates the team squarely in salt lake city.

however, given our postmodern situation, team names rarely keep their original significance. many team names have completely lost their reference like the dodgers, browns and reds. other team names, especially those names associated with city history, are often reduced like the supersonics to the sonics, the 76ers to the sixers and the knickerbockers to the knicks; the reduction largely divorces the team names from its intent (i mean, what exactly is a knick or a sonic?). other times, names with significant meaning for a certain geographical place are relocated again removing the name from its intent like the (new orleans)utah jazz and the (minneapolis)los angeles lakers. and team names are often chosen as idealized stereotypes, like the patriots, yankees and any name stemming from native americans (which will be a topic for another episode), further reinforcing the disappearance of a sense of history. most team names at some point, as the talking heads say, stop making sense.

this is most obvious in the examples of team names borrowing from labor unions. many diehard fans may not even realize that the steelers, (meat)packers, brewers and, to a lesser extent, pistons grow out of a city’s industry with paticular attention being paid to the workers of those industries. at the time the names where chosen, the cities often had strong, united labor unions representing real pittsburgh steelers or milwaukee brewers. as the labor unions have been undermined the relation of the team name to the workers of a city have been lost. the names, like the names of the browns or dodgers, become meaningless in any context other than within the professional sports team.

what does this all have to do with figuring out which team to root for? very little. but astute (non)sports-fans should take into account the history of team names when choosing what team(s) she should root for.


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  1. I am going to try to name my fantasy sports teams after labor unions or possible labor unions from now on.

  2. […] what’s our criteria? wasn’t someone here developing a framework for picking favorite teams and/or players? nothing about winning more games or championships or scoring the most points or any […]

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