Spring Training is less than three weeks away, everyone. And as baseball season approaches, so will the inevitable discussions on specific team names and whether or not they should be eventually changed.
The talk has been bubbling up for decades, but pressure has been increased lately – partially thanks to the lack of decorum emitted daily by Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder.
Personally, I do not find the Indians, Braves and Chiefs to be offensive or racist. Redskins? I’m not even going to try and defend that one.
But I don’t get to be the one that decides what is offensive. As a white male, I am not qualified to determine what is deemed as racist towards the Native American population. But I do know that if the sports team in your region has an offensive ring to a specific cross-section of this country’s citizens, you’d better listen to their concerns.
That being said, I’d like to propose that the Cleveland Indians officially retire Chief Wahoo.
Making that call is no easy task – I grew up a rabid fan of the Tribe. I still have vivid memories of the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, with a giant Chief Wahoo resting atop the stadium wall over Gate D. I’ve owned many ballcaps with his smiling face as the sole logo. I love the guy.
But he’s totally offensive. I can’t make an honest argument that doesn’t end with the realization that it’s a pretty bad caricature.
However, that’s where I’d draw the line. The Indians name itself must be kept the way it is, and not just because it doesn’t cross a threshold of taste.
In 1897, a young man by the name of Louis Sockalexis made his major league debut with the Cleveland Spiders pro baseball team. Birth records from that era were not very professional in that era – Sockalexis was listed as a caucasian man – but there is little doubt that he was baseball’s first Native American major league player. Like Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, his time in major league baseball was marred by ugliness from fans. Racial slurs and mock war dances were a common sight.
Sockalexis didn’t handle the attacks well, and it affected his off-field life. As a result, he only played a total of 94 games in a three-year career.
He died in 1913, and the Cleveland franchise changed their name two years later to the Indians (they had gone through nearly a dozen names prior to the current one). The legend of why they went with the Indians name has changed multiple times, but the prevailing theories are that they were (1) following up on the successful Boston Braves name, and (2) selecting the name that the opposition often referred to the Spiders during Sockalexis’ time.
The Sockalexis era of Cleveland sports is only memorable in that he was the first Native American to play the sport, and the Indians name carries that legend with it.
Keep the name, Cleveland. But lose the Chief Wahoo logo.
Oh, and Dan Snyder? You’re a dumbass. Dump the Redskins name.