Nicknames’ compromise possible

Posted May 20, 2010, at 11:16 p.m.

I’m offended by Tim Sample — and I don’t even know him.

But I do know of his professional persona, which characterizes Mainers in a way I — a native Mainer — prefer not to be characterized.

He puts words into our mouths that are hard to understand without a special Maine dictionary. And on occasions when I meet out-of-state friends, some expect me to play the role Sample has cast upon me or risk being re-characterized as someone not true to my roots.

Good for Sample that he’s been able to carve out a career at my expense. But as much as I might resent being mischaracterized as Sample’s sort of Mainer, I also respect his entrepreneurial spirit.

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So I live with the price I must pay for being a Mainer within the definition offered to the rest of the world by Tim Sample.

That’s because I don’t assume he is out to embarrass or humiliate me, just as I don’t assume that those who named school teams after Indians or Warriors were out to ridicule anyone.

Does anyone really know that when Skowhegan Area High School named its teams the generic Indians that it wasn’t just following the lead of its citizenry, who 13 years after the town originally was incorporated as Millburn in 1823 opted to revert to its previous Indian name, which means “watching place [for fish].”

No demeaning intention there, it seems, just an effort to provide historical perspective for a river town that once was territory of the Norridgewock Tribe of Abenaki Indians.

Take the nickname Warrior, which by itself doesn’t reflect any specific population other than those who battle for a cause. My dad’s not Native American, but I consider him a warrior because of his service on the European battlefields of World War II.

I recently read about the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps severely injured service members during the time between their active duty and return to civilian life. Those who would remove any name connected to anything human wouldn’t go after the Wounded Warrior Project, would they?

That might be exaggerating the point, but what isn’t exaggeration is that in a country still so young, we are so quick to revise history, so fast to apologize for anything deemed politically incorrect by the loudest among us.

Sometimes it’s the right thing to do. For example, Redskins merits full reconsideration — though it’s ironic that the pro football team in our nation’s capitol shrugs off such criticism. Ah, politics.

But with Indians and Warriors, there’s room for compromise.

The logos that largely reflect early Hollywood’s depictions of Indians and Warriors can go, for sure. But it seems that in a world where Native Americans are now known largely for running casinos, there’s a place for a school nickname to serve as an educational catalyst for understanding the full histories of both a community and the Native population that lives within.

Perhaps an example from the college world would be useful.

Florida State University, whose teams are named for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, continues to use the nickname and some of its imagery with the tribe’s blessing as a means of celebrating diversity within the university community through its recognition of the Seminoles’ culture and history.

No one should live life feeling offended, but there’s also a middle ground available in this case based on opportunity rather than assumption.

And I want Tim Sample to stay gainfully employed, too.

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