Finally, Cleveland’s Major League Baseball (MLB) team says it plans to replace its racist Indians nickname. That’s great news.
The Indigenous shouldn’t be used as nicknames and mascots for sports teams in the same way lions, bears and other animals are. Period.
But why is the Cleveland organization waiting until 2022 to make the change?
It’s mid-December, the season doesn’t start until April (or maybe May or June if the owners get their way and the season is delayed due to COVID-19 challenges). There’s plenty of time to drop the name and pick a new one.
“We believe our organization is at its best when we can unify our community and bring people together – and we believe a new name will allow us to do this more fully,” said club owner Paul Dolan in a statement.
Amen. Well done!
But wait, Dolan didn’t stop there.
“While we work to identify a new and enduring franchise name, we will continue using the Indians name (through 2021),” he said.
“Using Indians until we’re ready to unveil the new name will help the organization focus its attention on the current success of our ball club and plan for the long-term success of the new name,” explained Dolan.
Please, stop with the PR spin.
The real reason?
When in doubt, follow the money.
From the team’s website, after the announcement that the name won’t change until 2022: “We will continue to sell selected merchandise featuring our historic names and logos, including Chief Wahoo, as a way to acknowledge our history.”
So Dolan appears to be more interested in making money off his hurtful Indians nickname and despicable Chief Wahoo caricature than he’s interested in trying to “unify our community and bring people together.” He acknowledges the name is offensive but apparently not offensive enough to stop making money off of it.
A series of studies has found that “exposure to American Indian mascot images has a negative impact on American Indian high school and college students’ feelings of personal and community worth, and achievement-related possible selves.”
That’s not good, especially since the suicide rate among Native American youth is 2.5 times the overall suicide rate.
Yes, the name Indians is less egregious than the blatantly racist name Redskins that Washington’s National Football League team used until earlier this year. But there are still many negative ramifications from the continued use of Indians as a professional sports franchise’s nickname.
“The logos are part of a larger overarching problem of how native people are represented in this country,” says Cynthia Connolly, a member of the executive board of the Lake Erie Native American Council and a citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. “We’re relegated to the historical past. We’re feathered and leathered, rather than your co-workers, your neighbors, your classmates. As a kid, the limited ways other people see you – that starts to impact you.”
Sport is a powerful socio-cultural institution. Dolan and his Cleveland franchise can positively impact society by making this change as soon as possible. There are nearly 200 schools in Ohio that still have Native American mascots. Seeing the Cleveland Indians change their nickname could spur these schools to do the right thing and drop those mascots.
Dolan is right – changing the team’s nickname is the right thing to do. So do it now and let the healing begin.
Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans (leagueoffans.org), a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.
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