Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Team Names: Plural? Singular? Both? Here Is THE Answer

Now that the first all-singular (and all-weather) Finals in North American sports history is upon us (wait, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche have yet to square off in the Finals, right?), a long-standing dilemma has reared its head once again: how do we treat singular-sounding team monikers such as the Utah Jazz, Miami Heat and Minnesota Wild: as plural (like the rest of the team names), or singular?

I recently read an article in the Chicago Sun-Times where the writer mixed and matched singulars and plurals with the team names; i.e. he wrote sentences such as "the Heat is" and "the Bulls are". Now, while this seems to be perfectly acceptable to some people, it bugged the living hell out of me. I have long believed that team names are plural, in all cases, end of story. However, being the objective chap that I am, I went googling thru the interwebs for support of my belief.

Sadly, until now, there seems to be no singular consensus on the usage, with arguments made on both sides...until now. Strap yourselves in my English-speaking Western-Hemispherical Earthlings; I shall put this ambiguity to rest once and for all.

First, for those who think we should strictly follow singular/plural rules, I have news for you: you already break your own shoddy theory every day of your life. Would you tell us that Ford *is* hiring while General Motors *are* laying off employees? Do you say that Dunkin' Donuts are opening a new location? Do you say that this Starbucks are closed? No, you don't. Because you recognize that type of flip-flopping sounds dumb, that we have all accepted that a company's name refers to a singular entity.

Well, it's time to stop flopping around like the Miami Heat on defense when it comes to team names. We have equally well-established rules when it comes to team names: that they refer to a small group of athletes, that we preceed them with the word "the", and that they are plural. The Bulls are injury-prone. The 49ers are poised for a title run. The Knicks are an enigma. And yes, The Heat are down 1-0. The Thunder are clicking on all cylinders. And no, it doesn't sound awkward or incorrect. You are talking about a team of athletes, not a singular atmospheric disturbance.

What I found particularly amusing was one blog I found on the topic -- -- where the writer nearly came to a similar conclusion, yet ended with the following:
"What's the difference? Maybe having the word 'the' in front of band and team names makes the plural version a natural choice."

Umm, maybe? Actually, that's exactly it my fellow grammar-ponderer. We don't stick 'the' in front of franchise names unless we're including another descriptor (the Starbucks franchise, the General Motors brand) because, again, we recognize sports teams (and also music bands as he pointed out) as different entities than corporations. Same as we do when referring to the companies behind the self-same sports teams (the New York Yankees organization verses New York Yankees history).

So, again, unless you're prepared to walk around flipping all over the place saying "the Ford is building a new plant" or "General Motors are releasing a new hybrid" or "this Starbucks are closed", please stop the flop with sports team names. Strict rules of singulars and plurals have never applied to brand names and corporations. They need not apply here.