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May 26, 2005


It's not very often that I disagree with Frank DeFord, but having heard him pontificate on the matter of the naming of our sports teams, I have to wonder where his head is at. You can count DeFord as one of the many who have sided with those who suggest that naming a sports team after 'Indians' is cruel. I think not.

I could split the difference over a team born yesterday, but not over the Cleveland Indians or Washington Redskins or the Florida Seminoles for that matter. The difficulty has everything to do with intent, an issue with which most crusaders cannot bother to give the benefit of the doubt. You see, I associate the Cleveland Indians only with the Cleveland Indians. I would be more upset if they moved the team to Miami and still tried to call them the Indians. You will find, however, that most of the folks behind the movement to change these team names insist that the names are nothing but denigrating to Native Americans.

DeFord notes this and swallows it. He argues that, yes, he has heard arguments to the contrary - that such a named team or mascot brings pride to Native Americans. I say that the very fact that they are stereotypes proves that they have nothing whatsoever to do with Native Americans, and that Native Americans should pay the names no mind, unless of course they decide to root for the team in the context of sport.

I've been asked what I would think of the New Jersey Negroes or the Pittsburgh Pickaninnies. I would think 'whatever'. It is difficult for me to believe that any modern interpretation of Native American culture is near enough to actual appropriation to be anything more than an empty stereotype. But there are those who would like to fill it up, and there's the problem. But let's go there.

Coming back from the 2000 Games in Sydney, my plane made a stop in Aukland. I decided to pick up some souvenirs in the very nice and modern airport. As I grabbed a good 5 foor digideroo, what do I see to my surprise but a huge rack of sportswear for the All Blacks. It turns out to be the very popular rugby team, and the gear is very sharp. Better looking than the Raiders. I thought about it for a minute. All Black. How radical is that? I could see very well appropriating the gear and making it into an American Black Thing (tm), but to what end? No Americans know about the All Blacks, they would only know what I would try to make it out to be. It's the same as the case with the Negro Leagues. It's not about the team, it's about black pride.

So I think that people are fooling themselves if they believe that changing the name of a sports team has anything to do with Native American pride or their real culture. It's just another empty bleeding heart gesture which in no way affects the material circumstances or Native Americans.

I suspect we're going to hear more about it. I hope so.

Posted by mbowen at May 26, 2005 04:48 PM

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I was on campus and voting for the "Stanford Indians" change-over. I thought the mascot was demeaning. Dang, can't find an image on line. A sort of kilroy-type visage.

Personally, I thought the "Stanford Robber Barons" had a certain ring to it, but the Cardinal (the color, not the bird) it was.

I suppose the Cleveland Indians have history on their side.

It seems to me that a community college had a team called the Honkies. NOPE! "Fighting Whities"


Posted by: Elizabeth Ditz [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 27, 2005 12:17 AM

I have to disagree with you on this. Though history may be on the side of the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins, I still think that there is something demeaning about using Indians as mascots. The fact is that times change so the excuse that there was no intent to offend is not a good enough excuse to keep the name.

You are right that changing the name will have to material impact on the plight of Native Americans, but wouldn't it be nice if we just stopped using the offending symbols out of the kindness of our heart. I do recall a certain pancake mix updating the look of Aunt Jemima. It didn't change the condition of Black people but it was as acknowledgement that it may not be proper to use racial stereotypes even when there was no intent to offend.

Posted by: James Manning at May 27, 2005 09:02 AM

OK, let's say that we give license to the PC police and get rid of these Class Three insults. So what will Natives talk about when they want to engage on issues of substance? How do they get beyond 'The End of Racism' when there are no mascots? How will kids growing up today get introduced to the Genocide? When is anyone going to even use the word?

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 27, 2005 10:36 AM

Class three insult? I guess it is easy to rate the insult when it is not perpetrated on us. I think Native Americans have plenty of substantive issues at hand - the mascot issue does not rank at the top but it is an issue. I don't follow the 'The End of Racism' question, you'll have to clarify. And if your argument is that we need the stereotypes in sports name to teach kids about the genocide Native Americans faced at the hands of the settlers - then you are farther off based than I originally thought. That's like saying we need Jim Crow laws to teach Black kids about the injustices of the pre Civil Rights era. Finally, I think plenty of people use the word genocide when it concerns Native Americans. It certainly can be described as anything else. Just my thought

Posted by: James Manning at May 27, 2005 12:02 PM

Class Three relates to this post which tries to get some sanity in the matters of racism. What I'm suggesting is that for the same reasons African Americans can't get Affirmative Action, there will be a certain level of scrutiny Native Americans will not get when all the surface features of discrimination against them disappears.

A campaign of political correctness *substitutes* for the politics of reconciliation. To get rid of mascots may heal, but it won't cure. And I'm saying that Americans are not going to cure Native woes if they won't cure African woes. So I say it's a bad idea to heal if curing is not in the offing. If this is the most radical idea we get in the politics of Natives, then that's telling you what changes the system will bear.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 27, 2005 12:17 PM

I can't tatally disagree with your logic except I don't find that doing nothing is a better alternative. No, America is not going to solve the ills of Natives. But to say since the complex problems will be ignored there is no point on dealing with some simple problems that have relatively simple solutions, that doesn't sit well with me and it shouldn't sit well with anyone else.

Posted by: James Manning at May 27, 2005 01:15 PM

I am also going to have to beg to differ...and I wouldn't say I have a bleeding heart either.

To equate this issue with a "class three" insult is to ignore the enormity of the entity behind the insult. This isnt just a one-on-one act of non-political correctness (which could be an accurate description of a class three insult). Instead, it is multi million dollar corporations with huge mass marketing capabilities that are twisting the image of an entire race of people. Thats far from the isolated incidences os racial intolerance described as "class three" insults.

I am from Cleveland and was always a HUGE Indians fan but my mother would never let me wear Indians gear and I could never understand why.

But the team name or mascot is far from an empty stereotype, however. If the name was just the Cleveland Indians and there was no imagery attached to it, maybe it woudnt necessarily be a big deal. But their mascot is a red-skinned goofy-grinning visage with a feather in his cap. His name is "Chief Wahoo" Many people have never seen or met a Native American (sadly) and these images literally become the idea that some people have of Native Americans (especially young kids who don't know any better.) A professional sports organization has no business perpetuating any sort of sterotype if they can help it.

Also, consider that most sports teams/mascots are either 1) animals (lions, cubs, bears, bruins, timberwolves etc) 2) mythical or historic creatures/people (giants, titans, Vikings, Commodores) 3) associated with the geography (Lakers, Heat, Suns etc) or 4) associated with some benign feature of that city's culture (76ers, Knickerbockers, Pistons etc.)

It is simply unacceptable to equate an entire people with animals or mythical beasts. It is also not a benign cultural feature such as a "Piston." What Chief Wahoo is is irresponsible and completely unecessary. The city of Cleveland would lose nothing if the team's name were changed. We will all still know that Cleveland is bad at baseball without that beaming caricature to remind us.

Posted by: Shawna [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 27, 2005 02:18 PM

Imagine that there was a city in West Africa that had a soccer team called 'The Crips' and their mascot was a black man who wore a red plaid jacket, sagging pants and held a pistol sideways. Should African Americans be offended?

No, because African Americans aren't all gangbangers - it has nothing whatsoever to do with our real lives. But maybe some African Americans are actually Crips. Should they be offended? No because every Crip knows that Crip colors are blue, not red, and Crips don't give a fig about soccer.

The more stereotypical the mascot, the less it has to do with anything real about Native American life. But this complete disjoint with reality is what activists for the cause are all bent out of shape about. They are therefore making it more real than it actually is - a self-fulfilling deception. It's like saying "Don't say 'ooga booga' because it's offensive to African Americans".

If you think this is a battle worth fighting, fight on. I think it's ridiculous. You'd only be changing the minds of people who don't think. A victory at the kindergarten level.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 27, 2005 02:48 PM

Personally, it's not my fight but I support Native Americans that want to make it their cause. If a team were to called themselves the Crips, it wouldn't reflect on African-Americans, it would reflect an association with a gang. Now, if they were to call themselves the Niggers, now they are associating themselves with an entire race - and that would be offensive. So, if Cleveland went from the Indians to the Tomahawks, I don't think anyone would find it offensive. But, the Redskins, Braves, Indians, Fighting Illini, I can perfectly understand why Native Americans would find it offensive. No, this doesn't raise to the level of poor education and rampant alcoholism on Indian reservations - but to some its a cause worth fighting. I'm not much on trying to save the Spotted Owl but I can understand why some people would want to make it their cause. Just my opinion.

Posted by: James Manning at May 27, 2005 03:31 PM

Ita bad idea to heal if you cant cure? I think that is too black and white. Like many incurable diseases, there is indeed value to engaging in activities that make you feel better.

It may just be a small battle in the midst of a war, but does that mean its not worth fighting for the people it affects? No one is trying to solve the major problems in the native american community by jumping on this particular soapbox, but this is an issue that at the VERY LEAST should be remedied and moved on from. We should be past things like this by now.

Its not a matter of it being a "kindergarten level victory" but instead its "If we're in the 11th grade, why are we still dealing with kindergarten level problems?" i.e....problems that should have been handled and disposed of long ago.

Posted by: Shawna [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 27, 2005 04:31 PM