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Irish’ is an ethnicity, not a race

Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I find that recent letters decrying the athletic moniker “Fighting Irish” contain factual inaccuracies and suggest that people may have misplaced priorities.

First, I was not aware that the citizens of Ireland (and their descendants) were a distinctive race of humans. Yes, “Fighting Irish” may be perceived as an ethnic slur, but it is not racist. Second, what would these protesters prefer for an athletic nickname? How about the “Athletically Gifted Irish”? Perhaps in years when the teams were not performing well, we could call them the “Athletically Challenged Irish.”

If it’s any reference to Irish that gets them ired (hmmm… I wonder if there’s any connection between ire and Ireland; probably not, but it does make one wonder), then all that’s necessary is to change Irish to something else. How about the “Fighting Student Athletes from the University of Notre Dame”? There’s a catchy name.

In case my point isn’t getting through, consider other athletic nicknames: Fighting Saints, Fighting Quakers and Fighting Bishops. I don’t think anyone seriously considers these ethnic or religious slurs. In fact, there’s something catchy, almost poetic, about the oxymorons. Or do you really believe that “Great Danes” (University of Albany) is an ethnic slur that I should consider offensive to my paternal heritage? After all, Great Dane implies dog, and we all know what dog connotes when applied to a human. Speaking for my maternal side (German-Irish), I am not the least offended by “Fighting Irish.” Perhaps that’s because I recognize “Fighting Irish” for what it is – an athletic nickname that says nothing about people of Irish origin.

Dr. Richard JensenProfessor of BiologySaint Mary’s CollegeMarch 27