With all the controversy over the Washington Redskins and Native American nicknames for sports teams, our nation’s most offensive ethnic stereotype has been overlooked. That’s right; I’m talking about the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish and that leprechaun.
First of all, what’s the point of having a mascot who obviously can’t beat up anyone? The worst the little fellow could do is punch somebody in the kneecap. And what does the symbol and nickname say about Irish people: That we’re a bunch of belligerents.
Sure, when I was a kid, fighting was a handy way to settle disagreements. I, of course, continued to enjoy fisticuffs into my 20’s. But you can’t use one person to justify the fighting Irish stereotype. Take my dad, for example. A kinder, gentler man you’d never meet and he was a heck of a boxer in high school.
The leprechaun symbol also implies that Irish people are short. I’m 5’7″. You walk into any 6th Grade classroom and that’s tall. Tallness seems to run in my family. My dad was this close to making the minimum height requirement for the Chicago Fire Department.
The other features of the leprechaun: the receding hairline, the prominent ears. Why, he makes the Cleveland Indians mascot, Chief Wahoo, look noble. And how many balding Irishmen would grow a goatee like the leprechaun: Only those who listen to sports radio.
The mascot aside, the whole notion of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is outdated. With few exceptions, the golden age of the Irish-American athlete is long past. In fact, we’ve already passed through the heyday of the Italian, Jewish and Polish athletes and have long enjoyed the golden age of the black athlete: But Notre Dame Fighting African Americans?
Notre Dame’s greatest coach, Knute Rockne, wasn’t Irish. He was Swedish. (Hmmm, “Fighting Swedes” has a nice ring to it.) So, we should end this ethnic stereotyping and call Notre Dame something like the “Golden Domers.” The women’s teams could be called “The Domerettes” or the “The Dome-estics,” you know, something feminine.
Notre Dame is not alone in type-casting the Irish. Forest Park has a large tavern sign, featuring a leprechaun. He doesn’t have his dukes up, like Notre Dame’s but he’s leaning on a shillelagh, while hoisting a beer. Now, what’s that supposed to mean, that the Irish are heavy drinkers who might thump you with a stick.
My relatives wouldn’t even drink at a wedding reception when it was open bar. No, they were already on the verge of unconsciousness when they arrived at the reception. They didn’t want to drink anymore; they just wanted a quiet place to lie down. Do they sound like beer-swilling shillelagh-shaking stereotypes?
Speaking of beer-swilling, Forest Park celebrates St. Patrick’s Day for two-weeks every year. This is another ethnic slur, commemorating an Irish saint’s day with suds. Being a missionary, Patrick probably preached against partying. Yet, we have a parade a week before, just so the bars will have two Saturdays for the makin’ of the green.
One year, I asked a tavern owner whether he would be hosting an Irish band on the great day. He replied, “Why should I pay someone to take up space, when people will pay me to take up space?” What an attitude. He’s lucky I didn’t punch him in the kneecap.