EDMONTON - It was bound to happen, sooner or later.
An email arrived the other day from an American reader representing a group called PERIS — an acronym for Project to Eliminate Racial Insensitivity in Sports.
After sifting through the usual long-winded bleating about how the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Braves "continue to mock and demean the proud history of Native Americans," what really caught my eye was an item listed as one of the group's ongoing initiatives:
"In anticipation of celebrations in 2014 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Joe Louis, PERIS is seeking the help of sports media in the U.S. and Canada to immediately halt the use of the derogatory nickname ÔBrown Bomber' in reference to Mr. Louis, who should be remembered for his great accomplishments in the boxing ring, not for the colour of his skin."
Hey, why stop with racial stereotypes?
I'm sure with a little prodding these fanatics could be talked into helping peaceful porpoises launch a class action defamation suit against those violent Miami Dolphins, or they could petition the government of Sweden to boycott anything from Minnesota until those vicious Vikings come up with a more sensitive team logo.
What I find particularly galling is that while these purveyors of political correctness are so mincingly righteous in drawing attention to perceived ethnic stereotypes (the vast majority of which are open to interpretation), they have no qualms about rewriting the history books to suit their twisted agendas.
According to PERIS, "Louis was nicknamed ‘The Brown Bomber' by white sportswriters who, in the days before television, wanted to make sure their readers understood that the world heavyweight champion was not white — and therefore not worthy of respect."
What a load of crap.
In fact, black writers for black newspapers bestowed the ÔBrown Bomber' handle upon Louis early in his career as an effusive alternative to some of the wilder nicknames Ñ ÔMahogany Mauler', ÔChocolate Chopper' Ñ that routinely popped up in the mainstream national press.
So how can ‘Brown Bomber' be deemed derogatory? Even 70 years ago, it was far from being the sport's most racially charged nickname. A generation earlier, Nova Scotia-born heavyweight Sam Langford had been dubbed ‘The Boston Tar Baby,' and a contemporary of Louis, welterweight champion Jimmy McLarnin, was simply known as ‘The Jew Killer.' Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champ, was called ÔThe Grinning Gorilla' by New York writers.
The list goes on and on.
The bottom line is that nicknames based on so-called "racial insensitivity" have been part of boxing ever since the Greeks added the sport to their 23rd Olympiad in 688 BC.
That doesn't make it right — but it doesn't make it wrong, either.
It just means that while nicknames like ‘The Brown Bomber,' ‘The Great White Hope' (Jim Jeffries) and ‘Little Chocolate' (George Dixon) might belong to another time, they still provide fans with instant identification of larger-than-life figures who continue to cast giant shadows on the international boxing landscape.
To pretend otherwise in the name of political correctness is to deny history.
And that's just plain stupid.