Pending Mascot Changes
The U.S. is going through a national reckoning and on several levels. On a political level. On a health level. On an economic level. On a racial level.
Sports have long played an influential role in societal and racial change. From the breaking of race barriers in sports mirroring larger changes in society to Colin Kaepernick leading to larger Black Lives Matter protests today, sports can be a bellwether for change.
The reckoning from recent protests against police brutality is reinvigorating other racial issues in sports, in particular the use of racially insensitive flags, names, and mascots.
I am somewhat uniquely positioned to write on this topic. Two of the teams at the center of impending name changes are the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins. As a northern Ohio native, I was raised on 1990’s Indians World Series runs and heartbreaks. And as a DC resident for most of my adult life, I generally support the local teams as a not close second behind my Cleveland allegiances.
In my youth, I was mostly ignorant to any issues with the Indians name. And it was not just due to my ignorance but more so because the issue or really any issues didn’t receive as large a voice or attention back then. I vaguely remember perhaps one instance of a small group of protestors outside The Jake on the way into the stadium. In recent years, the Cleveland organization has made mostly kick-the-can-down-the-road type of gestures. The main move being “retiring” the Chief Wahoo caricature. Now though the team seems to be moving towards a permanent departure from Indians.
I’m not as well versed in personal knowledge of the Redskins name over the years. It does seem though that the organization has been more obstinate to change. As Cleveland made overdue progress, the Washington organization showed no signs of budging under despised owner Snyder. Even with recent pressure, they showed signs of potentially not changing the name. This should come as no surprise for an organization that is facing other major accusations. As minority owners are distancing themselves from the team exploring selling their share, the organization is finally investigating a name change.
Nick Francona (son of current Cleveland Manager) recently wrote a good perspective on the issue. Like him, I understand the strength of a fan’s connection to a name. Will changing the Indians name be weird for me? Sure. I can’t deny that. Defenders of the name will call out that it honors Native Americans or will point to Native Americans who say they have no issue with the name.
But let me tell you what these name and mascot issues come down to for me. If one Native American is offended by them, then that is enough. Someone might say well by that logic what if one fan is offended by having his longtime team’s name changed. Well it doesn’t matter how many fans are offended. When comparing offending a person’s race to offending a person’s fandom, one of these things is not like the other. I’ll let you guess which is more important.