These Pelicans are serious

Just finished listening to a news conference about the New Orleans Pelicans and their new name.

If I were to summarize the nation's reaction to the Hornets becoming the Pelicans, in a word, I'd say: bemused. It's happening right now on Twitter (normal language warnings apply) where you can learn, for instance, that former Hornet Chris Paul doesn't love the name. You can also read a thousand jokes about a bird that is widely seen as silly.

If it's a good sports team name, it's because the name has nonthreatening hipster ironic appeal. That is, undeniably, the national vibe: somewhere between seriously bad and ironically good.

Locally, however, things could not be more different. To the people who chose it, this is, by far, the least amusing name in sports.

Louisiana pelicans, we learned in the news conference, represent tradition, passion, resilience, pride, grandeur and charity. This is simply a regional difference in perception, and I respect that. What's funny or silly to some is not to others, and people who know pelicans better say they are not silly at all.


But none of that is what makes this the most serious name in sports. What does is the story. The story told was that this name is intended to prove that sports teams can have, essentially, higher holy callings. It's something people often talk about but seldom happens.

The story goes like this: After Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans was left for dead. Nobody would visit, because they had been inundated by imagery of a city underwater. That is, until the Saints won the Super Bowl and the world got a different message: The Crescent City was back in business.

Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast is in dire straits. Environmental degradation, coastal erosion, waterfront loss ... it's a part of the country that might not survive many more generations. The team is talking about leading the cause to try to make a difference. It is talking about rebuilding coastal wetlands. It is talking about community efforts for years to come, specifically to protect the environment of the pelican, as you can learn for yourself in this video.

As the story goes, sports has already saved this city, and recently. Now the idea is that it will save the Gulf Coast, too -- thanks to this name change.

This pelican talk sounds funny from afar. But in New Orleans, it's not funny at all.