The word police are apparently running out of things about which to get offended.
In a piece before the Super Bowl, Jamie L.H. Goodall, a staff historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, penned a piece for The Washington Post headlined “The Buccaneers embody Tampa’s love of pirates. Is that a problem?”
Goodall noted that when the National Football League expanded to 28 teams in 1973, “the league awarded Tampa an expansion team, prompting a name-the-team contest in 1975. ‘Buccaneers’ won, a reference to the pirates who frequented the coasts of Florida in the 17th and 18th centuries. But team executives wanted the logo to be a ‘classy’ pirate — a cross between Robin Hood, Errol Flynn, the musketeer D’Artagnan and pirate Jean Lafitte. It was a logo the team maintained until 1997 when they switched to a more aggressive, menacing Jolly Roger.
Yet, while this celebration of piracy seems like innocent fun and pride in a local culture, there is danger in romanticizing ruthless cutthroats who created a crisis in world trade when they captured and plundered thousands of ships on Atlantic trade routes between the Americas, Africa and Great Britain. Why? Because it takes these murderous thieves who did terrible things — like locking women and children in a burning church — and makes them a symbol of freedom and adventure, erasing their wicked deeds from historical memory. These were men (and women) who willingly participated in murder, torture and the brutal enslavement of Africans and Indigenous peoples.
The writer then goes on to detail the lives of a few prominent pirates. But then she gets back to outrage.
“So why do we celebrate individuals who were the baddest of bad guys, those whom preacher Cotton Mather once called ‘Common Enemies of Mankind?’ Pirates were known murderers who pillaged, raped and plundered their way through the Caribbean. And they were well-known enslavers who dehumanized Africans and Indigenous people, selling them for profit.”
“Perhaps time has dulled us to the atrocities committed by these 17th and 18th century outlaws. Or perhaps it’s the fact that if pirates of the Golden Age were bloodthirsty, so too were the nations who opposed them. They willingly and purposefully massacred millions of African and Indigenous peoples in the name of colonization. Pirates, then, are seen as romantic heroes — the underdogs fighting the establishment — whom historian Marcus Rediker refers to as proto-democratic, egalitarian and multicultural.”
In the end, Goodall suggested that’s a “problem” that residents of Tampa Bay need to deal with. “Should we celebrate their complicated legacy? It’s a question Tampa Bay has to contend with as we collectively contemplate other major sports mascots with dubious legacies, like their Super Bowl rivals in Kansas City.”
Oh, by the way, that team is the Kansas City Chiefs.
The targeting of “buccaneer” comes after the word police went after Native American portrayals in sports. First they hit Major League Baseball, forcing the Cleveland Indians to bid farewell to their controversial cartoon mascot, Chief Wahoo, at the end of the 2018 season. Then they went after the team name Washington Redskins, who have now become “the Washington Football Team.”