Recognize changes to racially insensitive team names
Following in the footsteps of other professional sports teams and universities, the Cleveland Indians have finally acknowledged that their logo and mascot are offensive — not to mention racist — and will discontinue their use in 2019. Beginning next year, the Cleveland Indians will no longer use the Chief Wahoo logo on their uniforms, according to . In a statement published on , baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said, "Major League Baseball is committed to building a culture of diversity and inclusion throughout the game," and that the logo "is no longer appropriate for on-field use." The decision made by Major League Baseball and the Cleveland Indians reflects the movement among sports teams in recent history to retire Native American nicknames, symbols and mascots. According to , Stanford University was among the first universities to change its mascot from the Indians to a Cardinal in 1972, and schools such as Dartmouth University, Siena University and Eastern Michigan University quickly followed suit.
The changing of nicknames, symbols and mascots of sports teams has stirred controversial discussions between fans who oppose these changes and those that believe that the misuse and appropriation of Native American culture is insensitive, offensive and racist. Fans that have a strong attachment to a team and its historical association with a specific mascot, logo or nickname have expressed resistance to the changes. Some say that the use of Native American imagery is actually to honor American Indians.
However, supporters of keeping old nicknames, symbols and mascots have also been facing severe criticism from those that consider using other cultures and groups as nicknames and mascots to be degrading and harmful to the people that are part of those cultures and groups. Protesters gather consistently outside stadiums of teams that use Native American nicknames, symbols and mascots, such as the Cleveland Indians. According to , one Native American woman told the New York Times that when schoolmates called her “redskin,” it was a “taunt and an insult, not an expression of respect.” Based on the events over the past few decades, it appears that many sports team officials would agree.
Although no offense against Native Americans or any other cultures or groups may have originally been intended in the creation of mascots, logos and nicknames of sports teams, the offense still exists and should be addressed. Ethnic or racial slurs — terms that stereotype a person based on something that is outside of their control — should not be used under any circumstance. Sports teams should be condemned for continuing to use ethnic stereotypes to market themselves. Understandably, nicknames, logos and mascots hold a lot of historic importance to fans. However, this doesn’t take away from the severity of the issue of using terms or imagery that may be considered offensive to any ethnic group.
The Cleveland Indians are by no means the last team left to change its logo, and there is still much progress to be made. Unfortunately, not all teams are acting on the increasing pressure to leave the Native American nicknames behind. The Washington Redskins in the National Football League is an example of such a team that has been resisting change. According to , in a letter written to fans, the owner of the Washington Redskins, Dan Snyder, wrote, “As some of you may know, our team began 81 years ago — in 1932 — with the name ‘Boston Braves.’ The following year, the franchise name was changed to the ‘Boston Redskins.’ On that inaugural Redskins team, four players and our Head Coach were Native Americans. The name was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.” Even if it had been intended as an honor, many fans today do not agree and have protested the use of “Redskins” as the name for the team. According to the same ABC News article, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year stated that the Redskins’ name cannot be stripped of trademark protection just because there are some that find it offensive. This ruling misses the larger issue at hand. A sports team should not be marketed based on an ethnic or racial slur.
The Cleveland Indians is yet another professional sports team that has addressed the larger issue at hand with using a logo that many find offensive and racist. Their decision to stop the use of their current logo sets a positive example in the sports community and will, hopefully, prompt similar actions by other teams still using offensive nicknames, logos or mascots.