December 09, 2007

The IronPigs mascot

The Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania has a new minor league baseball team (class AAA, International League; affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies; to play in Coca-Cola Park, still under construction, in Allentown).  The team has been playing in Ottawa, as the Ottawa Lynx.  Now it has a new name, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (that's how it's spelled on the website, though you can find Iron Pigs in print), alluding to the Bethlehem Steel Company.  And it has a mascot, the pig pictured below:

The question is: what to call the mascot?  You might want to imagine some possibilities before reading on about how the first choice was abandoned as offensive.

Here's what happened when the mascot's name was announced, according to the Morning Call:

When Guillermo Lopez picked up his newspaper Sunday morning, he froze at the sight of a prominent headline, alongside a photo of a fuzzy, human-sized pig.

There, in bright red ink, was the name of the IronPigs new mascot: PorkChop.

The word brought back uncomfortable memories of Lopez's time working at Bethlehem Steel, where he said racism was overt.

''If someone wanted to talk to me in a derogatory way, they'd call me 'pork chop','' said Lopez, whose family came from Puerto Rico to the Lehigh Valley in the 1940s to work at Bethlehem Steel.

... Lopez, who is vice president of the Latino Leadership Alliance, theorizes the term is regional, and came into use during the period when Latinos began arriving to work at the steel plant. Though Lopez was often called pork chop when he began working in 1973, by the time he left in 1998 he rarely heard the slang.

The paper cites the Urban Dictionary on pork chop:

pork chop: A racist term referring to Puerto Rican people; also slang referring to Portuguese people. It is not offensive to call someone of Portuguese descent a pork chop because it is considered humorous and endearing.

So the name was changed.  From the Lehigh Valley Line a few days ago:

Some say the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs' decision to change the name of its mascot from PorkChop to Ferrous is commendable. After Latino members of the community tipped off the team's management about the derogatory connotations of the name PorkChop, the Iron Pigs chose the word that means, "of or containing iron" instead.

(The Morning Call on-line has a video interview with Ferrous.)

Reactions to the abandonment of PorkChop (or Pork Chop), and to the new name, have been decidedly mixed.  Many fans, including some Latinos, don't see what the fuss is about.  But the management, "trying to avoid the appearance of evil" (as Roger Shuy put it in the most recent Language Log posting on the Washington Redskins and related nomenclatural issues) chose to not risk offending even some fans.

Notice that Ferrous is a pig of color, not your ordinary pink porker.  He is, in fact, (appropriately) more or less iron- or steel-colored.

(Very big hat tip to Ned Deily, who grew up in Bethlehem.)

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at December 9, 2007 03:18 PM