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Lugnuts turned Locos raises eyebrows

Minor league baseball team faces criticism

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Promotional material for the Lansing Lugnuts' temporary name change.

WEDNESDAY, March 20 — A temporary name change for the Lansing Lugnuts was designed to celebrate the Latinx community. But it is catching hell from some members of that community instead.

The name change to Lansing Locos translates to Crazies. The mascot would be a cross-eyed Potoo, a bird native to South America, with its tongue hanging out of its beak.

General Manager Tyler Parsons said the concept is based on the moniker “Let’s go Nuts.” Others suggested the Lugnuts could have found a more respectful way to honor Latinx culture.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate. It just sends the wrong message,” said Lorenzo Lopez, a Hispanic community leader. “It’s just a bad take in many areas. We’re living in an environment where Latinos have been attacked and are being continuously trashed and attacked.”

“Calling us crazy is not honoring us,” Lopez added.

The Lansing Lugnuts announced the plan to temporarily rebrand themselves in May as the Locos in an effort organizers said is designed to help connect the minor league baseball team to the city’s Latinx community. Admittedly, the team hasn’t been drawing much of a diverse crowd, Parsons said.

“We wanted to create a brand that was kind of inclusive to them and really kind of spoke to them in the same way the Lugnuts speaks to everyone,” Parsons added. “We haven’t been doing a good enough job in connecting to the Latino and the Hispanic markets here in the area. This was meant to be inclusive for everyone.”

The rebrand is part of Minor League Baseball’s Copa de la Diversión. The season-long competition is aimed at “engaging, embracing and honoring” Latinx communities nationwide. A total of 72 minor league teams are participating this year, each with a festive rebranding of their own. Only 33 participated in the event in 2018.

Planning for the Lugnuts’ involvement began more than a year ago and included a largely Hispanic “focus group” to help shape staff suggestions. While the team itself is about 50 percent Latinx, the front office admittedly lacks diversity, Parsons said. It was important to tap into perspectives from within the community.

“Our focus group really opened our eyes to a lot of different things,” Parsons said. “We didn’t have anyone that was bilingual, for instance, at the box office or with guest services. For guests that spoke Spanish, it became a challenge to become a part of a Lugnuts game. We’ve put a major emphasis on becoming more diverse.”

Parsons emphasized that members of Lansing’s Latinx community helped to finalize the rebrand. And while some local residents are entitled to their opinions, the upcoming name change was not designed to offend, he said. The idea was much more simplistic: The Lugnuts just wanted something “wild, crazy and fun,” he said.

Along with the rebrand, the Lansing Locos will host a series of special games. May 3 is an educational night with college and trade booths, bilingual trivia and games. May 4 is heritage night with a free youth baseball clinic. The temporary rebranding will conclude May 5 with a Cinco de Mayo street festival.

“We were just trying to find something that would make everyone laugh and kind of have that same emotional response that people have when they see Luggy,” Parsons added. “At the end of the day, it’s a fun, friendly, cartoonish logo to look at, that ties into the Lugnuts brand. It’s meant to be silly and fun.”

Social media also chattered away after the rebrand was revealed yesterday. Some, like Lopez, had perceived the name and the logo as a marginalization or Latinx culture. Others suggested that some people are just too easily offended. Parsons said the feedback — for better or for worse — will be taken into consideration by the Lugnuts.

Sien Benavidas, a member of the Lugnuts’ recent eight-member focus group, said both the team name and the temporary mascot were ideas generated exclusively by Lugnuts’ staff. The other top contender? The Lansing Lowriders — a shout-out to Hispanic lowrider culture with a flavor for Michigan’s automotive industry, he said.

“We were all pretty skeptical,” Benavidas explained. “We kind of took a step back, smiled, laughed and said, ‘Yeah, why not.’ It sounds like a fun name. I know there are complaints, but I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback too. I know it can be a touchy subject. We have a lot of things we can be offended by. I don’t think this is one of them.”

Lopez suggested additional community input might have allowed the Lugnuts to better grasp the negative impact of the recent marketing campaign. But diversity in the community also translates to a diversity of opinions, he said. There’s no way to please everyone — regardless of the altruistic intentions billed to be behind the concept.

“We don’t all see the world the same,” Lopez added. “We all need to be civil and respectful of other opinions.”

Others also voiced concerns about what they perceived to be the Locos’ insensitive take on mental illness. Rebecca Calkins, spokeswoman for Lifeway Community Mental Health in Jackson, said stigmas — including negative word associations — often prevent those with mental illnesses from pursuing adequate treatment. Use of the word “crazy,” like the politically decommissioned word “retarded,” isn’t likely to help reduce that barrier.

“It’s like the idea that mental illness is not a Halloween costume. We don’t like to see these things used like that,” Calkins said. “Just like physical disabilities, mental illness is not a joke. It’s serious. People are struggling out there. I’m not trying to be word the police, but I’d just hope that people stop and think about that stuff.”

Benavidas, for his part, said concerns about marginalizing mental illness were never discussed in his group.

“Could it be interpreted as demeaning? I think so. That’s possible,” he said.

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