Christians have no sympathy for devil

Published March 10, 1995|Updated Oct. 3, 2005

Tampa Bay's baseball team has not even taken the field and already it is getting booed _ by Christians, for God's sake.

The problem is the name _ the Devil Rays. People say they are happy to have the Rays, but many say they definitely could do without the Devil.

Some object because they think that using the word devil _ even as part of a longer name _ desensitizes people to evil in the world. In their view, the only one who should be happy with the name is the devil himself.

"I'm not interested in giving Satan any free publicity. He gets enough as it is," said the Rev. Bob L. Christie of Lake Maggiore Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. He said he considers Devil Rays "a lousy name."

Others don't like the name simply because they believe it has "a negative connotation."

"I can't understand how they can choose a name with devil in it. Devil to me means death, destruction, evil," said Louis Dibileo, a Catholic from Oldsmar.

"I just don't want to be associated with anything with the word devil in it _ especially if I'm going to be cheering for the Devils," said Nancy Davis, a Presbyterian who lives in Seminole.

Asked about Christian objections to the name, team owner Vince Naimoli, a graduate of Notre Dame, said, "I'm a Christian. The name has nothing whatsoever to do with the devil. It's a fish."

There is still a chance that fans can exorcise the devil from the name. Through March 17, Naimoli said, fans are invited to call (813) 288-8035 and choose between two names _ the Devil Rays and the Manta Rays.

The Devil Rays are hardly the first professional sports team to offend some fans with the choice of a name. In 1982, the owners of the National Hockey League franchise in New Jersey named the team the Devils, despite protests from some religious leaders.

The team was named after the legendary Jersey Devil, or Leeds Devil, which was said to have roamed the southern part of the state for a half-century beginning in 1887.

High school and college mascots also have been the subject of protests. People occasionally raise a mild objection to the name of the St. Petersburg High School mascot, the Green Devil.

"One lady got me cornered one day and wanted us to change the name to the Angels," said Bob Pfeiffer, who has served as the school's green-haired devil mascot for 26 years. "I said it didn't matter to me. If they called us the Frogs, I'd learn to hop around."

Other schools have endured more strenuous protests. In 1983, Christians in Christiansburg, Va., tried _ unsuccessfully _ to replace the 50-year-old high school mascot, the Blue Demon. A few years later, under pressure from Christian groups, East Jordan, Mich., High School _ home of the Sun Devils _ redesigned its logo, replacing a Satan-like figure with a rounder, cuter devil.

Often, having a devilish mascot is not a problem. Sam Thomsen is head of the Campus Crusade for Christ at Duke University, where the mascot is the Blue Devils. Thomsen, at Duke for almost four years, said the choice of the mascot never has troubled him.

"I see it as just an icon. I'm sure there are people who could be offended. But then, I'm sure there's somebody who could take offense at just about anything."

And few people noted the irony when Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass at Arizona State University's Sun Devil Stadium in 1987. (All images of Sparky, the devil-mascot, were covered.)

Devilish mascots turn up in the most unlikely places. The Duke Blue Devils, the DePaul Blue Demons and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons all represent church-affiliated universities.

Of course, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are purely secular. Many pastors and lay people said they're upset with team owners for choosing what they consider an offensive name when so many benign ones were available.

Elder Clarence Welch of Prayer Tower Church of God in St. Petersburg said, "As a Christian, I have to be against that kind of name." Welch often raises the specter of the devil in his sermons.

The Rev. Eldon Earnest of Bay Point Christian Church in St. Petersburg half-seriously suggested an alternative: The God Squad.

"Even if a devil ray is just a sea creature, the word devil is still in there," he said.