Miami's nickname change is long overdue

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Chief Floyd Leonard was unavailable for comment.

''He's on a driving trip,'' said the receptionist at the Miami Tribe office in Oklahoma. ''And he doesn't have a car phone.''

This is the place where the politically incorrect columnist inserts a joke about sending up smoke signals. Or perhaps some cheeky speculation about how the Chief must have gone on the warpath.

There will be none of that here. Native American culture might be a heap-big source of cheap humor among addled minds, but the subjects deserve better. They deserve to be treated as people, not as cartoon characters. And certainly not as mascots.

Miami University, an institution of higher learning and painfully slow progress, decided last week to drop the nickname Redskins from its athletic teams. The decision was 68 years overdue, and yet oddly controversial.

Saturday's Enquirer editorial page referred to the move under the heading ''Loser Of The Week.'' Underneath was the typical threadbare Custer analogy, and a wistful lament about years of tradition being trampled by political correctness. I would refer to the author as a Reactionary Boob - and there is a long tradition of this, too - but that would be name-calling.

Like Redskins.

Here are some ideas

Perhaps some college team bears a name that is more patently offensive, but it does not immediately come to mind. Notre Dame is not known as the Drunken Irish, at least not officially. Brigham Young's teams are called the Cougars, not the Bigamists.

Surely some innocuous name can be found for Miami, too.

''It's too early to say how it will be done,'' said Miami spokesman Richard Little. ''The board (of trustees) told the president he has to come up with a process. There will be some consultation with the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, and I'm sure it will include voices from the different constituency groups.''

Sure sounds like a committee. Sure sounds like a bad idea.

If Miami wants to put a positive spin on its embarrassing backwardness, it should turn the matter over to a marketing specialist. Find a name that registers with the T-shirt shops - something as inspired as the Orlando Solar Bears - and put an end to the lingering confusion with the University of Miami in Florida. Better yet, make a buck.

Consider the colors. Crimson Tide is taken - and wouldn't Procter & Gamble like a piece of that - but what about the Scarlet O'Haras?

Red and white present myriad possibilities. These are the colors of wine, of corpuscles, of stop signs, of the tablecloths in a thousand Italian restaurants. Roses and snow. Psoriasis and dandruff. Blood and Bone. (Possible Stephen King promotion.)

Remember Miami Vice? What of Miami Virtue? Considering the locale, what of the Oxford Dons? Or the Pastoral Preppies. Better to be a little obtuse than a lot insulting.

Been down this road before

Some of you may recall that I have preached this sermon before. Cleveland's appearance in last year's World Series touched off a tome about the insensitivity of the Indians and, in particular, their symbol, Chief Wahoo.

Fate assigned my son to a little league team called the Indians, and I was forced to put into practice what I preached. After a season of shamed silence, I told the coach I could no longer tolerate the name or Chief Wahoo. I offered to pay for new uniforms if he would adopt something different. Graciously, he agreed.

Weeks later, the coach called back. Practice was about to start, and the Indians would henceforth be known as the A's. When my wife explained this to my son, he was initially disappointed.

''Didn't your dad explain that the name Indians is being mean to the real Indians?'' she said.

''Yeah,'' he replied, ''but isn't A's being mean to the alphabet?''

Political correctness has not yet reached that ridiculous extreme. Nor should removing the name Redskins be regarded as a concession to liberal concerns. Basically, it's just being polite.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Sept. 29, 1996.