By Benjamin Solomon, Staff Writer
The Cleveland Indians are changing their mascot/logo. No longer will Chief Wahoo be found on this team’s merchandise. Instead, something yet to be determined will take its place.
This team but one example of the identity crisis facing several American sports teams. Teams generally have a mascot that features on their logo. Sometimes these are animals, like the Miami Marlins, and sometimes they are occupations, like the Pittsburg Pirates.
How does using a race or ethnicity as a logo fit?
It doesn’t. That is the problem facing several teams, beyond the Indians, like the Washington Redskins or the Chicago Blackhawks.
For the Indians, this self-evaluation has been going on for a while. The team apparently considered changing their mascot when they moved to a different stadium in 1994. In 2013 the team stopped putting Wahoo on their hats, but it remained on uniforms.
Clearly, the people in charge of this team understand that there is something not quite right about their mascot.
Chief Wahoo is a characterization of an outdated stereotype of what Native Americans look like. This is exactly like using a racist depiction of a black man as a logo. People should not be comfortable with this.
Would it be any better to use an accurate image of Native Americans as a team’s logo? Probably not.
But let’s take a step back and look at the historical context for this name.
The name appears to come from good intentions. In 1915, the team was changed from the Cleveland Naps/Napoleons (after a player called Napoleon Lajoie) to the Indians, in order to honor Louis Sockalexis, a Native American player who died two years earlier.
They went from being named after a specific person, to being named after another person’s race. To continue the example from before, this is like if a team changed its name to the Africans or the Blacks to honor Jackie Robinson.
This is definitely a result of the rampant racism of the period. This was before racial sensitivity came back into the mainstream consciousness with the civil rights movement. The standards were lower, and this have been an unusual display of acceptance.
Over 100 years later, this self-reflection is far overdue. Our standards are higher. There is no excuse to have professional athletes on television with racist caricatures on their uniforms.
Naming your team after a race because you like one person from that race is not acceptable or appropriate. If people really want to honor Sockalexis, then the name should reflect him as an individual, as the case was for the Lajoie.
They should just get a whole new name. There are near infinite options that are better than the current name.
Getting rid of the logo is a step in the right direction, but hopefully it is not the last step.