As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get ready to host Super Bowl LV in their home town, the Washington Post used the occasion to warn against the dangers of “romanticizing” pirates.
The article began by describing Tampa Bay’s history of including pirates in their city culture, and the origins of the “Buccaneers” name.
“The Buccaneers’ name and logo are a true reflection of the city hosting the game, trumpeting its close association with pirate legends, like José Gaspar, namesake of an annual Tampa Festival,” writer Jamie L.H. Goodall said in the Post article. Goodall is a staff historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History and author of historical books such as “Tippling Houses, Rum Shops, & Taverns: How Alcohol Fueled Informal Commercial Networks and Knowledge Exchange in the West Indies” and “Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay: From the Colonial Era to the Oyster Wars.”
In her article, Goodall linked to a newspaper clipping that detailed a 1975 name-the-team contest hosted by Tampa Bay radio station WFLA. Local resident Dr. Richard Molloy, who was the first to suggest the name “Buccaneers,” won a television set and season tickets for choosing the winning team name.
Yet, while this celebration of piracy seems like innocent fun and pride in a local culture, there is danger in romanticizing ruthless cutthroats who created a crisis in world trade when they captured and plundered thousands of ships on Atlantic trade routes between the Americas, Africa and Great Britain. Why? Because it takes these murderous thieves who did terrible things — like locking women and children in a burning church — and makes them a symbol of freedom and adventure, erasing their wicked deeds from historical memory. These were men (and women) who willingly participated in murder, torture and the brutal enslavement of Africans and Indigenous peoples.
Goodall goes on to describe at length the history of pirates, specifically that of Gaspar, who “died in 1821 and is still celebrated in Tampa today as the ‘Last of the Buccaneers.'” She also called out Hollywood and writers such as Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott for promoting the “glamorization” and “lionizing” of pirates.
“So why do we celebrate individuals who were the baddest of bad guys,” Goodall said. “Pirates were known murderers who pillaged, raped and plundered their way through the Caribbean. And they were well-known enslavers who dehumanized Africans and Indigenous people, selling them for profit.”
Goodall then criticizes the romanticizing of pirates, saying:
Perhaps time has dulled us to the atrocities committed by these 17th and 18th century outlaws. Or perhaps it’s the fact that if pirates of the Golden Age were bloodthirsty, so too were the nations who opposed them. They willingly and purposefully massacred millions of African and Indigenous peoples in the name of colonization. Pirates, then, are seen as romantic heroes — the underdogs fighting the establishment — whom historian Marcus Rediker refers to as proto-democratic, egalitarian and multicultural.
“Should we celebrate their complicated legacy?” Goodall asked. “It’s a question Tampa Bay has to contend with as we collectively contemplate other major sports mascots with dubious legacies, like their Super Bowl rivals in Kansas City.”