If the fight against institutional racism in sports was a baseball game, today’s news about the Cleveland Indians would qualify as a single.
Following the 2018 season, the Cleveland Indians will retire the incredibly offensive logo of “Chief Wahoo” from their uniforms permanently. They will still be called the Cleveland Indians. They will still be able to sell merchandise with the “Chief Wahoo” logo on it. This will not take effect until 2019. And despite the notion in the press that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred pressured the team into dropping the red-faced throwback to the racism of the 1930s, the reality is that there is only so much pressure that one can apply to one’s boss.
The naming of teams after Native Americans is a problem in sports on multiple levels. First, at the most (or least) obvious level, it is heinously offensive to the truth about the history of our culture and country. Native Americans were driven from their land, destroyed by disease and genocide. They were forced to culturally assimilate and many indigenous people currently live in extreme poverty. I’ve seen some of the conditions first hand on a visit to Navajo Nation in Arizona and it is heartbreaking and morally outrageous.
To ignore this and plaster racially offensive stereotypical images and names on sports teams that wouldn’t have been here without brutal bloodshed is bad enough. But when you look at the scale of this demeaning practice, and you don’t have to look far, it is staggering. Thousands of teams are named after different tribes.
So how does this problem get solved? Public pressure is a good place to start. California recently forced a changed for schools still carrying one of the most offensive slurs. Other schools have changed names or dropped logos. Boycotting games is another way to go, along with calling sponsors and asking them to drop sponsorship.
Showing up at school board meetings, organizing your neighbors, all of these actions can lead to positive progress. Today might not have been much relative to the slew of other issues we face, but I’m grateful for any win in the era of Trump.