The Kansas City Chiefs aren’t the only Super Bowl participant with its name in the crosshairs this year after a Washington Post op-ed blasted Tampa Bay’s embrace of the name Buccaneers, which allegedly “romanticizes” the brutal history of piracy.
“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,” wrote historian Jamie L.H. Goodall Friday. “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 op-ed comes as many American sports teams have grappled with controversy over their names, including the Chiefs, the Buccaneers Super Bowl opponent named after Native American leaders.
Sports franchises have opted to change their name amid the criticisms, including the Washington Football Team, formerly known as the Redskins, while the Cleveland Indians announced its intention to change its name following this upcoming season.
Other franchises, such as the Chicago Blackhawks, the Atlanta Braves, and the Kansas City Chiefs, have so far resisted the effort to make similar moves.
But Goodall, who is a staff historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, doesn’t want the Buccaneers to escape the discussion. She argued that society has a history of “lionizing pirates,” from “swashbuckling films,” such as the Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl to books and poems that created “caricatures who were as charismatic as they were deadly.”
“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,” Goodall wrote.
With Tampa Bay readying to be the first city to host its home franchise in a Super Bowl, Goodall believes it is time for the city and others to grapple with the reality of their names.
“Should we celebrate their complicated legacy,” Goodall asked. “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.”