My initiation into the Indian mascot issue came in junior year at Bismarck High School. Discussion of UND’s Fighting Sioux nickname was making the rounds again, and as the 16-year-old news editor for the high school paper (The Hi-Herald #represent), I decided to write a column about how stupid the issue was: For goodness sakes, we have REAL issues to combat, people! <– Tell me you’ve never heard that one…
An adult male who helped raised me and has requested to no longer be part of my blog mentions asked what my column was about and I told him. His response wasn’t what I expected, and while I can’t remember the specifics of the conversation, I do know he put it in perspective by comparing the use of “Sioux” to using an equally offensive racial slur (which is problematic in and of itself – why tear down another culture to prove a point in mine? But I digress…). I crumpled my notebook paper – probably titled “I’m so cool I think mascots are a total honor” – threw it in the proverbial wastebasket of dumb ideas, and started afresh with a new perspective: Tell me again how exactly Indian mascots honor people? It’s actually pretty tough to come up with examples that don’t involve some kind of financial payoff #bloodmoney
Nearly 15 years later and my tune has changed only in that I’m more outspoken and less forgiving when it comes to protesting the use of Native imagery in sports (and entertainment in general). Plus, I’ve done a ton of academic research, news articles, and late-night discussions on the subject. The backlash I received from that first article (from a bunch of high school students, mind you) hasn’t really changed much, though. People are still super-ignorant and super-hateful to anyone who messes with their whitewashed view of the world (refer to that awesome poem above).
And so I keep tabs on issue and watch with delight as the winds shift for (some) college teams and some national teams, as well. A mentor and amazing journalist Mark Trahant recently wrote a column about how 2014 will be the year the Washington football team ends its use of that murderous name. I hope so.
Then someone posted on my Facebook feed last week about the Cleveland Indians getting rid of their racist caricature, Chief Wahoo.
For those out there who aren’t baseball fans, Chief Wahoo is the buck-tooth-smiled, tomato-red Indian who looks like he wandered straight out of a Nazi propaganda cartoon and whose image serves as the logo for the team,” writes Los Angeles Times guest blogger Matthew Fleischer.
The Cleveland Indians are ridding themselves of that vile logo? It can’t be true, I thought pessimistically to myself. Considering most of the recent mascot debate has surrounded Washington’s football team, it didn’t seem likely Cleveland would just suddenly and without some big PR blitz retire the mascot it’s used since 1951. I did a Google news search and found sports writer Paul Lukas’ original Tweet/story reporting the mascot switch, then his follow-up Tweets/story that no one in the Cleveland baseball organization could/would officially confirm the change-up. I went to the baseball organization’s site, and while the “block C” logo was prominent, Chief Wahoo’s violent visage could be seen throughout the homepage (as of today, it still can). No, the rumors didn’t seem to be true.
And then the next day the story kept making the rounds, including Indian Country Today:
The Cleveland Indians have slowly phased out its Chief Wahoo logo in favor of that big C, but the team hasn’t eliminated the Chief completely. The smiling Indian caricature, deemed racist by many, will remain on the caps and jersey sleeves of its home uniform.
It’s a few days later and this seems to be the extent of the Chief Wahoo story: The mascot is still in use, but only kinda. Lots of folks are quick to claim this small ‘victory,’ but it all rubs the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, even a teeny-tiny step in the right direction is still the right direction, but why is Cleveland so mum on the issue?
To me, it’s the ultimate cop out, a way to play both sides of the fence without having to take responsibility for anything: “Oh, no, mascot fans, Chief Wahoo is here to stay! We’re just big fans of the alphabet.” And, “You bet, protesters. We totes did this to show how sensitive and progressive we are as an organization. Please don’t pitch us down the media well like you did with that team in Washington.”
On a positive note, most of the talking heads in the sports blog-o-sphere (see Rob Neyer, Shaun Heidrick, Mark Naymik, and also be sure to check out Lukas’ and Fleischer’s articles mentioned above) are coming out on the side of legitimately retiring Chief Wahoo. Not demoting. Not putting him on some back-burner. But doing away with him once and for all. Hopefully the good here will be folks* recognizing a logo/mascot do not a team make.
*Not these people, though #hateful
Almost had it here: