Cleveland Indians should change their name
The Cleveland Indians were defeated by the Chicago Cubs in the World Series championship on Wednesday night, Nov. 2, 2016 at Progressive Field in Cleveland in the 10th inning by a score of 8 to 7. But before the game was played, I wrote this column looking at the racism of the Cleveland Indian’s name and how they should be disqualified from playing baseball until they change it.
Published in the Southwest News-Herald newspaper, Nov. 3, 2016
By Ray Hanania
If the Cleveland Indians end up winning the World Series, as it seems as I write this on Sunday, Game 5, I don’t think they should be given the World Series title until they own up to their historical disregard for humanity and American history.
They need to change their name, first.
“Cleveland Indians” is an offensive name and their symbol or mascot, Chief Wahoo is and has been disturbing.
That professional athletes would even want to be a part of a baseball team that denigrates and offends the cultural heritage of an entire race of people is disgusting.
Before the team was known as the Cleveland Indians, it had many official names and many nicknames. One nickname was the “Indians” because in the late 1890s, one of its key players was Native American player Louis Francis Sockalexis, who was an outfielder when the team was called the Cleveland Spiders.
Sockalexis is considered the first Native American to play baseball, although is a dispute much like the one involving Christopher Columbus and the debate over who “discovered” America.
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In the 1900s, the team was known as the Cleveland Naps in honor of another player, Napoleon “Naps” Lajoie. In 1914, Naps retired and the team owner Charles Somer who made his first mistake by asking the sports writers at the city’s four major newspapers and asked them to suggest a new name.
None of the sportswriters were thinking of a name that might honor Sockalexis, Native Americans or anyone for that matter. They could have called the team “The Cleveland Cy Youngs,” after one of the team’s most famous and well known players and pitchers.
(By the way, the Cy Young Award was created in 1956 in honor of Hall of Famer Cy Young who died the year before.)
No, they chose “Indians” because it was a racial stereotype and caricature at the time. Indians were ruthless, waiving tomahawks and spears and they would kill anyone. Dark faced, fearsome and screaming savages.
That racist stereotype of Native Americans carried through for a long time, even long after the American Civil Rights movement helped jog America’s conscience about racism and race.
As a child in the 1950s, I watched cartoons on television which portrayed Native Americans as fearsome savages. I watched John Wayne and other “White Hat” heroes save women and children from the brutality of the savages in movies that went on to build fame and fortune.
Little did I know at the time that the media would eventually cast a more sinister race in that role, Arabs. I can only imagine what it was like for Native Americans to live under those racist stereotypes.
Most importantly, Native Americans for years have demanded that the team change its name, but the team has refused. Racism and hate apparently are in the foundation of the Ohio city, and I am sure in many other cities, too.
But that’s not an excuse. Racism doesn’t belong in a heritage or colorful sports history.
The name “Cleveland Indians” is a racist, hate-filled name and anyone playing professional baseball wearing that uniform should be ashamed of himself or herself – are there female baseball players?
Cleveland isn’t the only city with a racist sports franchise name. There is the Atlanta Braves, with a mascot Chief Nac-a-Homa who chopped an axe in the air, did a rain dance and then ran into a teepee in the middle of the field. He was called “The Screaming Indian” or “Screaming Savage.” There’s football’s Washington Redskins, and I could go on and on with the Chiefs and the Black Hawks, too.
But racist jokes are not funny and neither are racist images, no matter how we try to spin them today.
Until the Cleveland Indians change their names, the World Series title should go to the Chicago Cubs.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)