Two writers offer their insight on Cleveland Indians name controversy

The baseball team from Cleveland, Ohio, has held the Indians nickname for over 100 years. But manager Terry Francona said it’s “time to move forward,” and two sports writers agree. Photo courtesy of  Brace Hemmelgarn / Getty Images.

William Steigelman, Sports Staff Writer

and

Lucy Couch, Sports Staff Writer

William:

This past December, The Cleveland Indians announced that they would be changing the team’s name after over 100 years of using it. The change comes after years of push back from fans and Native Americans. Cleveland also completely eliminated their logo of Chief Wahoo, and transitioned to a block C logo back in 2018. This change came after the Washington Redskins dropped their name and logo in July 2020.

For me, it’s difficult to give a clear, completely thought-out answer to whether or not a team like the Indians, or any other team with a Native American name should change their name and logo. In short, yes, I do believe these teams should change their names and logos. It’s difficult for me to give out this long thought-out answer because I’m a 21-year-old white kid.

I don’t feel like myself, or any other white person should be telling Native Americans, or any other ethnic group for that matter, how they should feel. I don’t know if having these names and logo are offensive myself, but many Native Americans say they are, so we should listen to them. I know that if there was a sports team that had a logo and name that was offensive to me personally, I would want it changed.

The controversy of Native American names and logos really points to a deeper problem we have in America. America tends to downplay, and not teach us a lot of the bad it has done in history, and I think this is most true when it comes to Native Americans.

When I think about my time in history classes when I was younger, the only thing I can remember about Native Americans is the role they had in Thanksgiving. In reality, Native Americans are the victims of genocide and hundreds of massacres throughout American history.

Even today, we are somewhat ignorant of what Native Americans go through. Most Americans know that the majority of Native Americans live on Indian reservations, but likely do not know how grim of a reality that actually is.

I actually had the opportunity to visit parts of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 2014, where I saw some of the living conditions there as well as the location of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. Let me tell you, that area isn’t a place you or I would want to live.

Coming back to sports and the changing of team’s names and logos, we must try to learn more about the history and struggle of Native Americans before trying to defend it in any way. Many defenders of names and logos that involve Native Americans say that they shouldn’t have a problem because it is actually honoring them in some way.

However, to come back to my earlier point. If Native Americans themselves are saying that they find theses names and logos offensive, which they have been for decades, we should be listening to them.

The removal of the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins logo in the last year has been a step in the right direction when it comes to this issue but acted on it much too late. Like I mentioned earlier, Native Americans have been protesting these types of names and logos for decades, and some colleges such as Miami University and Stanford changed names from things having to do with Native Americans to something else.

Still today there are several examples of teams that have names and logos related to Native Americans that are yet to announce a change, such as the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, Kansas City Chiefs and many college programs.

I truly hope that in the next few years we will see the elimination of the names and logos that Native Americans want gone, but first I believe Americans as a whole need to spend more time educating ourselves about the history of Native Americans so we can understand why this is such an issue.

I implore you to do your own research on the history of Native Americans so you can see why these changes in sports need to be made. For two resources that I personally found interesting click here, and here.

Lucy: 

Social movements and sports are now becoming more entangled than ever before. Beginning with Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling for the national anthem to the “shut up and dribble” incident with Laura Ingraham, and a recent name change by the Washington Redskins, sports are drawing needed attention to social justice issues. When Kaepernick was the quarterback for the 49ers and kneeled for the national anthem in 2016, many people criticized his decision.

Many felt that it was disrespectful to the men and women who served for the United States and made sacrifices to make it a free country. This act would later lead to several individuals and teams across professional sports taking a knee to this day. It all started with someone who stood up for what he believed in and used his platform to get deserved attention from society.

The idea of using a platform resonated with LeBron James as well. In 2018 Fox News television host Laura Ingraham criticized James for “talking politics” during an interview, saying she was not interested in political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to “bounce a ball.”

James used his platform to address his concerns with some of President Trump’s comments made on social media, describing them as “laughable and scary.” Ingraham’s comments fueled James as the situation brought more awareness to social injustice and gave him the opportunity to talk about his beliefs to millions of viewers watching the NBA All-Star Game.

Today, NBA players are using their platform to address social injustice by having “Black Lives Matter”, “Equality,” etc. on the backs of their jerseys to express themselves. Why wouldn’t you use your platform for what you believe in?

Everyone does not have to agree with these decisions being made by professional players, but I believe these players should be respected for their beliefs and using their platform to build awareness for social injustice. With young kids looking up to these professionals, they are able to influence this generation and address uncomfortable conversations simply by having meaningful phrases on jerseys.

As far as professional teams and names, we have already seen the Washington Redskins change their name to “Washington Football Team.” I believe this was the right decision because the term “redskin” is derogatory and extremely offensive to Native Americans.

Additionally, the Cleveland Indians have received challenges from Native American fans against their team name since the 1970s. While the team officially dropped its logo of Chief Wahoo in 2018, it has not come up with a new team name and will keep its current name in the meantime. Though some associate Chief Wahoo with baseball and pride, I think it’s insensitive and out of line.

Having Chief Wahoo as a mascot embodies the idea of seeing Native Americans as a joke. No one would paint a black face or Asian face on themselves and think that would be acceptable, so why is painting a red face when going to an Indians game okay?

To have a mascot built on seeing another race as inferior is not acceptable. This mascot has lived on for more than 71 years, meaning generations of people have grown up thinking it is acceptable. Chief Wahoo would have continued to live on if the team did not receive backlash from society and fans across the country.

I think this degrading, insensitive mascot goes hand in hand with the idea that children are not born racist but are rather taught to be by those who raise them. If a child has grown up seeing his or her parents wearing Chief Wahoo gear or dressing up as him, they will likely follow suit and think nothing of it. A young child does not intentionally choose to offend a culture by dressing up as Chief Wahoo.

Children are taught what is acceptable by parents and they are the ones responsible for instilling values such as respect for other cultures into children. When children are not taught to respect other cultures or do not have tough conversations differentiating right from wrong, they then pass on what they were taught to their own kids. It becomes a cycle. What has happened with the Indians logo is a reflection of this idea. Over seven decades, each generation thought this mascot was acceptable and continued supporting it and the team.

Having Chief Wahoo as a mascot that fans dress up as romanticizes the culture and history of Native Americans. It creates this stereotype for all Native Americans and neglects to address the pain and suffering these people went through.

The treatment they received in the past was not acceptable and for them to see themselves in the form of an insensitive mascot that fans cheer for is disgusting. For a country built on systemic racism, having Indians as logos for high schools, colleges, and professional teams was normal. I think it took a long time for people to actually understand how offensive this was to Native Americans.

Successful businesses have to adjust to trends, or they do not last. You see this with Blockbuster, Sears, Toys “R” Us, and other companies that were forced into bankruptcy within the last decade. These companies could not compete with those who based their philosophy on technology and online platforms.

A successful franchise like the Cleveland Indians cannot last if they do not keep up with the trends and change their racist mascot. It matters now more than ever to society that it associates with teams and brands that align with its values.

If Cleveland is not aligning with 2021 values, people will start to drift away from them. It’s not only important for Cleveland to change the logo and name for its brand and image, but also to treat Native Americans with the respect they deserve.

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