Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The extremely rare MLS post

I watched some of the MLS Cup final on Sunday. Crazy ending, with Taylor Twellman scoring in the second half of overtime, but Brian Ching equalizing merely seconds later, forcing a shootout won by Houston. What I saw was pretty good. Clint Dempsey seems to me to be too good to be playing in the US.

But it reminded me of something I meant to post on forever ago: the name of Houston's team.

A bit of background...

Houston's MLS team was established after the San Jose Earthquakes moved. After fans suggested names, the owners of the team announced that the name of the franchise would be Houston 1836, referring to the year the city was founded. Before the club played a match, the name was changed.

A vocal group of locals of Mexican descent opposed the name because the year 1836 also referred to the war for Texan independence, and in some ways a brutal war against Mexico.

So the owners then changed the name to Dynamo, as an homage to the various Eastern European teams called Dynamo or Dinamo (Kyiv, Moscow, Dresden, Bucharest, Tblisi, etc).

Assuming for the sake of argument that the 1836 name is offensive, my question is why anyone involved would think that Dynamo would be any more historically offensive than 1836?

Eastern European and communist era football clubs had a specific place in society. Each major communist nation typically had teams that were sponsored by and related to particular public entities. The clubs known as CSKA, Partizan or Steaua were sponsored by the Army. Lokomotiv or Rapid were run by the railway systems. Levski were sponsored by the civil service.

But probably the best known of all Eastern European clubs are the Dynamo clubs, especially Dinamo Kyiv. The name Dynamo refers to one thing - each of the Dynamo clubs was directly sponsored by, founded by or related to the secret police. After the 1917 revolution, a club named OKS Moskva came under the control of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the long time chief of the Cheka, which became the GRU, a section of the NKVD, which inevitably became the KGB. OKS was renamed Dynamo in 1923 and ever since then the club (and pretty much every other Dynamo club) had a direct tie to the state secret police. The tie was so great that many of the clubs were considered the most detested by everyday fans, though few would say so publicly. As for the success many of the Dynamo clubs had, many people thought the influence of the KGB or other state polices had a bit to do with it, whether by steering top players there, or more overt influence over officiating or other on-field actions.

That's the backstory. So the question is, if the year 1836 is offensive to some, why wouldn't a team name that evokes the worst parts of communism also be offensive? The state secret police raises historical facts like thousands dead in the Gulags, pogroms against Jews and other religious sects, espionage against the US, etc. I'm not sure there is a more "anti-american" thing on earth than the KGB. In some ways, it's pure purpose was to destroy the American way of life. And that's what Houston's name suggests now.