I’m a big sports fan, and a big home-town fan. A backer. This isn’t surprising because sports fandom is, in a way, hometown fandom. It’s not that there aren’t people who support teams from places other than their own town (weirdos) but I would guess a majority of sports fans root for the team they root for because they self-identify with that team as a member of the community it represents.
Let’s take the Fusion, since, having been ON that team, I feel I can most liberally generalize about it. Most of our fans were friends and family rooting for individual players. Then there were a few people who just loved football and were there to admire athleticism and athletic feats. Then there were those people who were there because they were from Cleveland and they wanted to support Clevelanders wearing the name “Cleveland” on their shirts.
The Fusion changed their colors, in fact, in 2007, from purple and yellow to orange and brown, matching that other Cleveland football team since Clevelanders already identified themselves with those colors.
Here, I’ve created a handy venn diagram. A sports fan rooting for any individual team could find themselves anywhere on this, maybe even the same person in different circles at different times or during different games:
The point is: Teams represent communities.
A name, logo, and colors represent the team.
If A = B and B = C, one can say A = C and the logo and colors represent the community.
Sports fans further believe that the team, the community, and the colors are part of THEIR identity. Community represents the individual. A = B = C = me.
You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?
I hate Chief Wahoo.
I know, I buried my lead, but this is really addressed at my fellow sports fans, and as I’ve hopefully explained clearly above, sports fans have very real reasons why they may see an attack on a logo as an attack on a team or even on the community and individuals it represents. Meaning themselves. Meaning: I get it.
However, oh my stars and garters how I despise him. That logo scared the beejeebus out of me as a child and always felt, frankly, creepy. I mean, always. All Wahoos. The ‘old school’ Wahoo? YEEESH so nasty. Homemade Chief Wahoo cookies? Disturbing, yet hard to decipher. There is just no context in which I like him.
As I grew up and learned about Native Americans and representation? It was like every layer of creepy had a new layer of “even creepier” under it.
And I have a hard time even SAYING “Indians” which makes, well, squeeing over their wins awkward, doesn’t it? And even if I just say “Hooray for the Cleveland baseball team!” well, that’s tacitly accepting the logo and the name through silence.
I love my city, and I love my city’s sports teams, and I admire and respect every individual player on the Cleveland Indians and I am proud to have them representing my city and, by extension, myself.
Can I not make myself your enemy when I say maaaaybe it’s time to say buy-bye to Racist McRacistFace?
My boss has been lamenting all week that, “All of a sudden it’s a big deal? I’m not allowed to wear a shirt that represents my team because some mamby-pamby is going to feel bad? Maaaaan look at the shirt I’m allowed. It doesn’t even represent the team except for one little feather.”
Well, first off, it’s not “all of a sudden.” Native Americans sued the Cleveland Indians in 1972. That’s forty-four years ago. There were protests and complaints BEFORE 1972, you can believe that.
What he’s really saying is, “All of a sudden I am aware of this.”
No one wants to think of themselves as the bad guy. They want to go back, to when it was all okay and they didn’t have to hear about it – but it wasn’t okay. It was just hidden from their view, because minority voices couldn’t be heard as well before social media. Because our team wasn’t doing well enough to draw big media attention.
Ursula K. LeGuin once wrote, “To oppose something is to maintain it.” Which is up there in my list of favorite quotes, because it is true, and important to remember. Conflict is self-maintaining in the human psyche. Any pro-Chief-Wahoo people reading this have just gotten MORE pro every second. Because I am attacking them. I am making them feel bad and defensive. I’ve done all I could to avoid it, but I know I am.
Remember: I do get it.
I’m not attacking YOU. The logo may represent the team. The team may represent the community. The community may represent the individual, but YOU ARE NOT CHIEF WAHOO.
Stop. Think about that sentence. Now think about how that sentence reads to a Native American, who sees a freakish cartoon of her ethnicity popularized.
The symbol of a thing is not the thing itself. These symbols are hurtful to real people. These symbols dehumanize real people.
Their reality HAS to trump our representation of a reality.
What you love isn’t Chief Wahoo, it isn’t red and blue or a giant C or a script I. It is the team, the community, an individual, a sport, a group of athletes. And those don’t change if the team name changes. But a Native American will never not be a Native American.
It’s hard. It’s hard to give up something you love. It’s harder for Cleveland maybe because this team is so old – one of the founding teams of the American League! And the identity is so entrenched.
But there is no way we can ‘go back’ to when we were unable to hear complaints. It isn’t right and it also isn’t feasible. This controversy, this discomfort you and I both feel, only goes away when the team changes its name.
Did you know the team was first called “The Rustlers” and then “The Cleveland Lake Shores”? The Indians still list 1901 as their founding date, but that’s the date they changed their name from “The Shores” to “The Bluebirds.” After that they were “The Blues” and then, I am not joking, “The Naps.”
I would be super-happy to root for The Cleveland Blues or the Cleveland Naps. I mean, HELL YES NAPS.
Is there anything you can get behind more than naps?
They weren’t named “The Indians” until 1915. The argument for the name came from a Native American who played for the Cleveland Spiders back in the late 19th Century. That was a different team. The one compelling argument, the one argument I always had to accept for the name of the team was that an actual Native American played for the team, but it wasn’t even that. He played for a different, earlier, team in the same city. A team that had the decency to have a noncontroversial, really cool name.
So why not The Spiders?
(Seriously, “The Spiders” sounds SO BADASS it gives me chills. Ziggy Stardust approved!)
(Information from Wikipedia’s page on the History of the Cleveland Indians.)
There are lots of awesome, historical, significant name options for a Cleveland baseball team. So let’s change the name. Not for some faceless other but for US, the fans, who are tired of having to add asterisks to our joy.
The sooner we pick a new name and go with it, the sooner we can get back to this: