By John Matisz/London Community News
Controversy has struck the Forest City sports community yet again, this time following the announcement of the naming and logo unveiling of London’s newest professional baseball team at the London Convention Centre yesterday (Nov. 15).
London’s moniker in the Frontier Baseball League (FBL) will officially be the Rippers with a logo bearing a resemblance to Jack the Ripper, an infamous late-19th century serial killer from London, England, who preyed on female prostitutes. Aside from the contentious name, the timing of the announcement coincided with Wear Purple Day in London, an initiative that aims to raise awareness about issues relating to women abuse.
“We took a lot of time building the story of our character Diamond Jack,” said the franchise’s owner/general manager David Martin in defense of the nickname. “It is a play on words — don’t get me wrong — but on the flip side of the coin it’s a totally different character. We’re talking about London, Ontario, not London, England.”
Martin said the name and logo received positive reaction. He is already selling merchandise even though the Rippers’ 48-game home schedule doesn't begin until May.
Today, however, public opinion has been primarily negative.
Mayor Joe Fontana, on behalf of city council, released an official statement on the franchise’s naming and logo choice: “While the team owner’s intention may not have been to draw a connection to Jack the Ripper,” the statement reads, “we believe this name is unfortunate particularly in light of our focus on ending woman abuse. We will be speaking with the owner today and give him an opportunity to reconsider the name.“
Despite the plea from Fontana, The Rippers' owner said he won't rename the team and compares its moniker to those attached to several other professional sports franchises.
“Are the (National Hockey League's) New Jersey Devils changing their name because someone doesn’t agree with the devil?,” Martin said. “Our character is a Canadian boy who played hockey, ripped the puck so hard when he swung his stick like a baseball bat that his dad had him start playing baseball.”
Megan Walker, executive director of London Abused Women's Centre, believes the way Martin is responding to the outrage will ultimately result in poor fan support.
“The team could do the right thing — and apologize, come up with a new name with the city — or they could continue to defend themselves and see the results at their box office,” Walker said. “(The logo and name choice) is very concerning, it’s disturbing, and I think it’s appalling.”
London and area residents have sounded off on the issue through social media, both agreeing and disagreeing with the club.
“This whole name relates to baseball like let her rip,” Garnet Smalley wrote on this newspaper’s Facebook wall.
“London now known for serial killer baseball team and the racist banana guy. I swear we’re not as bad as it seems,” Sean Vail (@seanvail) said on Twitter. Lorie Paddock (@loraliepaddock) added: “We in London are mighty proud of that tonight. No such thing as bad publicity? How about shockingly bad judgment?”
Walker added about 50 people have called or emailed the abuse centre's office today in regards to the Rippers fiasco. Some of the comments from the public, she said, have included threats to protest outside of Labatt Park when the team begins play.
Word broke out about the possibility of professional baseball returning to the Forest City in early September when the City of London’s director of parks and recreation Bill Coxhead told London Community News he had met with an interest group. The city-owned venue has housed the Intercounty Baseball League's London Majors for a number of years, but during the 2012 season, the Rippers and Majors will share the facility.
The Rippers are not London’s first professional baseball franchise. In 1998-2001, another Frontier League team, the London Werewolves, played out of Labatt Park. A decade earlier, the AA London Tigers called the Forest City home from 1989-2002.
London will join the Frontier League’s East Division, which also includes a team each from Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois. The league’s West Division is comprised of seven teams as well, with all but one calling an Illinois city home. The Rippers are the only Canadian team in the FBL.