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By David Whitley

Wednesday, August 9, 2000

More buzz over ’Bows

ORLANDO, Fla. -- There's something inspirational about a rainbow. Unless you're a football player, that is.

Instead of seeing nature's splendor, you see yourself wearing high heels and swinging a purse and fleeing tailbacks. Such is the worry around Honolulu these days.

The University of Hawaii has become the latest school to change its nickname because it might offend a special-interest group. Only the special-interest group is itself.

Hawaii's football players and coaches didn't like what rainbows have come to symbolize.

So the Rainbow Warriors are now simply the Warriors.

If you're not sure what the problem is, you'll understand why Hawaii's move is a stroke of stupidity, even by the wacky name-game standards sports fans have learned to live with.

You know the protest routine. It's one thing for American Indians to complain about the Braves and Redskins. That is why Stanford no longer is the Indians, Marquette no longer is the Warriors and so on.

It's another thing for animal lovers to demand that Green Bay drop its beloved Packers. When you're worried cows might be offended by an NFL nickname, it's hard for even vegetarians to take you seriously.

Unless you have a closet full of Seminoles shirts, you can laugh at all this political correctness.

It may seem silly, but it shows a certain social evolution when teams change their nicknames to address legitimate gripes.

Then there is Hawaii. If nothing else, give the school points for originality. Instead of changing names to end a controversy, its change has started one.

It seems being known as the Rainbow Warriors was a threat to campus manhood. The rainbow, you see, has become a symbol of gay pride.

That's a terminally touchy subject, but this isn't really an argument over the rights or wrongs of being gay. It's more a case of caving in to petty paranoia.

Its not as if Hawaii's players had to live with being called the Flaming Homosexuals. They have been called Rainbow Warriors since 1923, when one appeared over Moiliili Field during a game. A rainbow, that is. Not a homosexual.

Since then, the rainbow has been a symbol of Hawaii's splendor.

You would think paradise would be one of the last places people would get hung up on stereotypes, but isolation apparently does not protect one from prejudices.

Coach June Jones said the team simply wanted a more macho image. Athletic Director Hugh Yoshida originally said the move was partly inspired to disassociate the team from gay overtones.

Apparently, Hawaii's players had their self-esteem shaken when opponents used the R-word on them during pregame trash-talking.

Yoshida's comments triggered the predictable firestorm, so he amended things to say Hawaii just wanted to avoid brand confusion.

After all, Jesse Jackson has the Rainbow Coalition. People might think Jeff Gordon is playing quarterback. Doesn't Greenpeace have a boat named Rainbow Warrior that's always bothering Japanese whaling ships? And somebody might assume Judy Garland might show up and sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at halftime.

It's hard to believe this isn't just a case of institutionalized homophobia. Instead of taking pride in one of the more distinctive nicknames in college football, Hawaii's players are not secure enough to laugh off the yahoos who kid them about it.

That's sort of understandable when you're a 19-year-old with identity problems. It's something else when school administrators go along with the silliness.

What will they do next to keep the chest hair on the school's image? Make Jones change his first name to something more macho? Maybe they should schedule Florida, so the Warriors can stand in their huddle and make Gay-tor jokes.

Something tells me Florida would end the jokes by kicking butt, not changing names.

Maybe Hawaii should try that. After all, sticks and stones may break its bones, but rainbows should never hurt it.

This column is printed with permission from the Orlando Sentinel.
David Whitley is a Sentinel columnist.

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