An Appeal to Change the Cleveland Baseball Team Name and Mascot
By: Lizzie Poulos
(Reminder: this article is a representation of my individual opinion on this subject, and the reader has every right to question and/or disagree with what I say. I ask only that the reader try to keep an open mind as they read.)
Now that baseball season is winding down, I think it may be the opportune moment to point out the large, somewhat racist elephant in the room: Cleveland’s baseball team name and mascot. Since 1915, Cleveland’s baseball team has been named the Cleveland Indians, and as some may argue, the mascot and name are indeed a tradition. In my opinion, although it has a longstanding history in this city, our team name and mascot are both racist and offensive, and should be changed.
This accusation against our beloved baseball team may come as a shock to some of those who are reading this, and that does not surprise me. I didn’t recognize the horrifying racism of our mascot until I was 13, when I talked with some Native American demonstrators at a local Indians game and began to look more deeply into the issue. Up until then, I had lived my whole life a diehard Indians fan, cherishing both the team and its mascot. I was so blinded by my team pride and surrounded by the indifference of those around me that I never saw how blatantly racist our mascot is. Here, I have included a photo of our current mascot on the top, which can be found on Indians paraphernalia all over the city, and on the bottom is a older mascot which was recently brought back in some forms of team merchandise:
Now, take off your team-spirit cap, put on your image-analyzing cap on, and look at how our current mascot is portrayed. Notice how in general this character, which is supposed to represent a human being, and a greater culture, appears to be more of a silly caricature than a person. In this way, this person, or culture, is portrayed not as a respectable portion of our society, but rather as a funny cartoon-like personality. Also notice the blatant stereotypical nature in which this “Indian” is portrayed: big nose, red skin, large toothy smile, black hair parted in the middle with a feather in the hair. Not only is this a grand generalization of a large and complex group of people, but it is also extremely racist. The one below is even more offensive, as it looks even more “savage-like,” more of a caricature, than its newer counterpart. Why is it that almost all mascots in the sports industry are either animals or objects? Because they are meant to be silly and fun, but are never truly respected, becoming a caricature rather than a legitimate example of whatever they are meant to represent. This is evident in the name of the mascot itself, “Chief Wahoo.” Is this the name of a chief who should be respected? No. It is meant to make this person or character appear less threatening, in a manner that is eerily similar to those that Americans have had with all persecuted people of this country in less admirable portions of our history, such as African Americans during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Now you may be thinking, so what if our mascot is “cartoony”? All mascots are cartoony, and this a way of honoring the Native American influence found in Cleveland. Although to some this may seem as more of an honor than an exploitation, if we look deeper into historical context, it becomes clear that there isn’t anything honorable about this mascot. Let us recall the long history of genocide against Native Americans in American History; over several hundred years, colonists who settled in the United States, and later leaders of our country, made deliberate acts of violence against our native population, exterminating entire tribes and forcing others to relocate to nearly uninhabitable parts of this country. In addition, Americans demeaned Native Americans for years, calling them “inhumane” and “savage.” To add insult to injury, we still to this day call Native Americans “Indians,” and even use it as our baseball team’s name, perpetuating an inaccurate and offensive term for Native Americans initiated by Christopher Columbus more than four centuries ago. So to some this may seem honorable, but many Native American tribes have spoken out against all mascots to portray Native Americans, explaining that they act as harsh reminders of the injustice that was carried out against their ancestors. This name and mascot is extremely offensive to all, but in particular to those whom it is supposed to represent, and continues the traditions of a disgusting portion of history in our country. How can we say we are a progressive city when we still stand by a racist generalization of a historically persecuted people as our team mascot?
More and more, Americans are beginning to recognize the degeneracy of Native American mascots, including the Indians. In fact, management this summer officially changed the “logo” of our baseball team to the “C” instead of “Chief Wahoo.” Although this is a step in the right direction, it is certainly not enough. Chief Wahoo continues to be plastered on all types of Indians merchandise, and our team name continues to be an inaccurate term meant to generalize a complex group of people. I believe we should change our team name and mascot entirely, thereby ending another piece of the perpetuated history of injustice towards Native Americans in this city and in our country. Some fans may fear that their favorite baseball team will no longer hold the same nostalgia if the name is changed, but they should question this concept. What is it that you really admire about the team? Where is your love based? Is it based in a racist caricature? No, your love for your baseball team comes from a love of the team, its members, and your city. This love will not be changed with an altering of the team name and mascot. Finally, I ask the Indians team management to consider making this change of name and mascot. Until then, I ask all Clevelanders to question our team name and mascot, and if they come to the same conclusion as I have, show support by refusing to purchase or wear any Indians paraphernalia with Chief Wahoo, and ask friends and family to look deeper into the issue of baseball team name and our mascot as you have.
Photo source: MLB Memes