Refusing To Call The Cleveland Indians By Their Name Is An Absurd Idea

Refusing To Call The Cleveland Indians By Their Name Is An Absurd Idea

It wouldn’t be out of bounds to ask sensitive Toronto folk to cast their eyes west and tell us why ‘Eskimo’ gets a pass while ‘Indian’ doesn’t.

The indigenous name controversy has moved north to Toronto. The Globe and Mail:

We are Blue Jays fans, and while we’ll be cheering for Toronto to defeat Cleveland in the American League Championship Series, we shudder when we imagine the phrase ‘Blue Jays pummel Indians’. There is no longer any place for indigenous mascots to represent sports teams. Not in the United States, and certainly not in Canada.

In a baseball game, the umpire calls out strikes loudly for all to hear. So too should fans of the game call out racism.

I like the “certainly not in Canada.” The very idea that a team named the Indians would soil the hallowed grounds of Rogers Centre gives people the vapors. Never mind that the Indians have been coming to play games in Toronto for decades.

This issue came to a head last week when Toronto play-by-play announcer Jerry Howarth said  he wouldn’t use the word “Indians” during the upcoming American League Championship Series. Other local sportscasters immediately jumped on the bandwagon. The guys on the radio sound ridiculous saying, “The team from Cleveland has a good bullpen,” and “The Cleveland baseball team is missing some starting pitchers,” and the like.

You’ll Never Prove Anything Isn’t Racist

Whether you should use the word “Indian” is an unwinnable argument. If someone sees something as racist, that’s that and there’s no way you’ll change their minds.

Even so, after a couple of years of handwringing in the United States over the name Redskins, a poll in May showed that 70 percent of Native Americans have no problem with the word, while 80 percent have no problem with someone calling them that personally. Over half said the issue itself isn’t important to them at all.

That seems way, way out of whack with the avalanche of anti-Redskin-Indian-Brave-etc. op-eds I see all the time now. In other words, it’s still a story of importance to the faculty lounge set, but in the real world it doesn’t mean much. Yet. People pushing an agenda of cultural change know to heed the advice of Red in “Shawshank Redemption”: pressure and time gets results.

I doubt most teams name themselves after something ignoble, weak, or something to look down on. This is partly why I think eliminating native names and icons is an awful way to honor native culture. If you remove all of the names and icons, will people give less or more of a passing thought to native heritage? I would think less.

But again, an unwinnable argument. Everything is political. How you feel about “Redskins” is now an item to be checked along with issues like medical care and gun ownership.

Can’t We All Just Get Along

In any case, Canucks shouldn’t get away with throwing rocks in a glass house. Some Canadian sports teams use indigenous nicknames, too, including the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League. The word “Inuit” has become more preferable to “Eskimo” over the years as an umbrella name for Arctic natives, and at least one Inuit group has asked Edmonton’s team to drop the Eskimo handle. It wouldn’t be out of bounds to ask sensitive Toronto folk to cast their eyes west and tell us why “Eskimo” gets a pass while “Indian” doesn’t.

If I were in a compromising mood—and I understand that for the anti-native-name crowd, there would be no quarter—I would change the name of Redskins and Indians to a name of a tribe local to the area and ask someone from that tribe to help out with the logo. I would also dedicate a game day to them and ask if they would like to do a pre-game performance or presentation of some kind to remind people of the native heritage of the area.

This concept worked for the Seminoles. It wouldn’t be enough for the people who want to ban the word Mohawk—there’s nothing you can do for such people; who wouldn’t want to emulate a Mohawk brave in the face of adversity?—but it might put the argument to rest for your surroundings.

By the way, I have a feeling a certain motorcycle company will be keeping its head down until this all blows over for another season. How about you?

Sean Berry is a writer who lives in Toronto. He spends a lot of his time writing about international politics, sports, movies and wine. Find him on Twitter at @TOWineDrinker.
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