Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Naming rights and wrongs

"Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I'd rather not belong to." -- Gilda Radner

I used to think Tampa demonstrated the ultimate in lack of class and bad judgment when it came to naming things after people when they tore down Al Lopez Field while Al was still very much alive. After all, one is not supposed to outlive their own monuments. That's still pretty awful but this debacle over changing the name of "Gilda's Club" is, if not worse on all fronts, at least dumber.

Just to catch you up, Gilda Radner was a member of the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players, the cast of performers that launched NBC's "Saturday Night Live". She died from ovarian cancer in 1989. In 1991, "Gilda's Club", a community organization was created to help and support people living with cancer as well as their families and friends. Last week, several branches of the organization announced plans to drop Radner's name and change their name to "Cancer Support Community". The reason given for this decision is that many people who utilize the organization's services don't know who Gilda Radner was.
"One of the realizations we had this year is that our college students were born after Gilda Radner passed, as we are seeing younger and younger adults who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis. We want to make sure that what we are is clear to them and that there's not a lot of confusion that would cause people not to come in our doors." -- Gilda's Club Madison executive director Lannia Syren Stenz

How completely idiotic.

In spite of being born after Christopher Columbus, George Washington and Thomas Edison died, I know who they were and I understand why stuff is named after them. I don't know how I know this, as I wasn't born with that knowledge, so I have to assume that someone took the time to teach me. That's part of the reason we honor people by naming stuff after them, so that when someone asks who they were we can take the opportunity to teach them, and in doing so, honoring the person's memory. It's entirely possible that somewhere right now there's a kid who doesn't know who Dr. Martin Luther King was. When that kid asks why there's a street named after him, do we respond by re-naming the street? Maybe. It's probably easier to do that than to take a minute and explain who King was and why he's important enough to name a street after.

If so, we should prepare to navigate a pretty slippery slope.

The football stadium here in Tampa (ironically, on the former site of Al Lopez Field) is named Raymond James Stadium. Nobody I know, myself included, has any idea who Raymond James is or was. Should they change the name of the stadium? No, because Raymond James is actually Raymond James Financial Services, a company named after two relatively anonymous (albeit wealthy) guys, one named Raymond, the other named James, not one historically relevant guy. I guess that's fairly simple.

However, in Philadelphia, the pro football stadium is named Lincoln Financial Field. Lincoln Financial Group is the marketing name of Lincoln National Corporation, a Fortune 200 American holding company. But that company is named after Abraham Lincoln, an extremely relevant historical person, and based in Radnor, Pennsylvania, which is named after Radnorshire, Wales, where the Quakers who founded it emigrated from, and not Gilda Radner, original Not Ready For Prime Time Player. Clearly, this stadium should be re-named in honor of current Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and then torn down since he is still alive.

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