noun Older Slang: Disparaging and Offensive
*a contemptuous term used to refer to North American Indian
My friend Jerry wrote an excellent post last week, reminding us that it’s not only black lives that matter when it comes to systemic racism in our country. Native Americans know a few things about hundreds of years of denigration, prejudice, and yes, genocide. I want to expand upon Jerry’s theme from a different perspective.
It finally happened. After years of vehement refusal to ever change the name of his NFL team, Owner Dan Snyder finally decided to retire the Washington Redskins. No longer will the name or logo ever grace the uniforms of their football players. The new name, at present still under discussion, will replace the old one for the upcoming 2020 season.
In 2013, Snyder famously said that he’d NEVER change the name. Yes, all caps is how he wanted it described when quoting him. But never say never, as the saying goes. And, of course, never underestimate the power of the almighty dollar. Because I’m sure if he had his druthers, that name would be forever part of his legacy and the team’s legacy for generations to come.
But when FedEx (my former employer for 28 years) informed Mr. Snyder that they could no longer sponsor the team if they kept the Redskins name, and other companies such as Nike followed suit, the proverbial handwriting was on the wall for Snyder. The only thing more shocking than him finally agreeing to change the name, is the swiftness at which the whole thing transpired.
The idea that FedEx would step forward to make such a statement on the name change is a prime example of how fast things are changing. The company’s founder and Chairman, Fred Smith, is no liberal by any means. A lifelong supporter of Republican policies and candidates, Smith decided that he needed to be on the right side of history on this issue, and kudos to him for doing so, regardless of whether that was his real motivation. The same goes for Dan Snyder.
The killing of George Floyd changed everything. The protests and outrage stemming from that murder spanned the globe and opened a robust debate surrounding not just how we should police our streets but also how systemic racism continues unabated in our economy, education systems, housing policies, and yes, even sports.
The sporting world have always found themselves in the middle of social, political, and racial issues over the years. This time is no different. Whether it was Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier as the first African-American to play Major League Baseball, or Tommy Smith and John Carlos raising their gloved fists at the podium ceremony for their gold medals at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, athletes have, at times, played significant roles in moving us to a more just society.
The changing of racially insensitive names and logos of sports teams follows along that same path. Washington is doing the right thing, albeit much too late. And it appears that a team I’m very familiar with is contemplating a major change as well.
The Cleveland Indians baseball team followed Dan Snyder’s proclamation of an impending name change for his Washington franchise with a statement that they too, were strongly considering changing their team nickname.
The Indian’s front office’s announcement follows on the heels of their decision to permanently remove the offensive, racist logo Chief Wahoo from team uniforms in 2019. You could still go to the team’s website store and order a jersey with the Wahoo logo for several months after removal from official team uniforms. But when I checked the website a short time ago, the Chief was nowhere to be found.
Much like Dan Snyder, current Indians owner Paul Dolan also proclaimed in the past his reluctance to ever change the name of the team or the logo. However, he’s been a bit more receptive to it than his father Larry, who was adamant when running the team that it would never happen. Once again, never say never.
To say this issue is divisive in Northeast Ohio would be an understatement. When you talk about political hot button issues in the area, this one was always near the top. Lifelong fans, especially those who grew up with the team and lived in the area, had difficulty parting ways with Chief Wahoo. In recent years, opening day became tense and ugly between fans and Native American groups who would always gather near the front entrance with signs demanding the team change its name and logo.
Many current Cleveland baseball fans will take it out on the team and never go to a game again if they follow through and change the team’s nickname. Banning the logo is one thing, but removing the team name might be a bridge too far for some. Others, though, will adjust and move on.
But it’s undoubtedly a sign of the times. Little by little, perhaps our society is finally getting it right. We’re getting rid of racist traitor statues all over the country. Maybe even the names of some of our military facilities will also suffer the same fate.
And while the Black Lives Movement reminds us of the historical bigotry and injustice leveled at the African-American community, we also cannot forget about the marginalization of other minority groups. The senseless killing of George Floyd has proved to be the catalyst for taking a look at all forms of racism.
I’d ask you to take a look at the featured image for this post. Both will soon be mere footnotes in history, whose longevity endured despite years of protest and division. To that, I say good riddance. Their time was up a long time ago. But 2020 is proving to be one of those years where it seems as though anything is possible, be it for good—or not.
And it does appear that the Cleveland Indians are about to replicate the actions of the Washington Redskins. What was once considered untouchable, is now a distinct possibility. No matter if your a sports fan or not, the fact is that a team’s nickname is synonymous with it’s host city, and in this case it’s been that way since 1915. That’s 105 years of history and tradition.
As a lifelong Cleveland Indian fan myself, I know about that history. I know what it’s like to feel attached to the team, and in effect, it’s name and logo. It took me a long time to realize how racist Chief Wahoo was, and how insulting it was to Native Americans. Getting rid of the Chief was the right thing to do. I’m ashamed it took me so long to figure that out. But the team name too?
As many Native American groups have said, if you leave the team name in place, some of the old traditions of Wahoo and other racist memorabilia would remain. Fans would continue to don headdresses and apply face paint. We’d also continue to witness the faux war chants and hand gestures (eg. the tomahawk chop), drum banging, and other forms of mockery. If you keep professional sports team names like the Indians, Blackhawks, Braves, and Chiefs, the insults to Native Americans would continue into eternity.
You know what? They’re right. It’s time to change them all.
What do you think?