In the wake of the Washington NFL announcing that they are looking at changing their nickname to something other than a racial slur, the Cleveland Indians have announced that they are engaged in the process of examining whether their use of the nickname “Indians” is appropriate.
The use of mascots referencing Native Americans has been criticized for decades — I remember a Sports Illustrated piece in the mid-80s that focuses on folks of Native American heritage objecting to the use of such monikers — though in recent years that has increased. Particular attention has been paid to the NFL’s Washington club, and the use of caricatures as part of logos or emblems. Chief Wahoo, the longtime Indians symbol, came under significant fire in recent years, and Bomani Jones received a mix of criticism and praise after doing a spot on ESPN’s Mike & Mike in 2016 wearing a “Caucasians” t-shirt with a white-faced version of Wahoo on it.
The Indians have eliminated Chief Wahoo, but there has remained the question of whether “Indians” is an appropriate nickname. There are differing views on this, and different ways of handling it — the Spokane Indians of the Northwest League, for example, reached out to the Spokane tribe almost two decades ago about the name and whether it should continue to be used, and with the tribe’s blessing, have kept it while using it as a way to honor the tribe and its traditions and history.
The question when looking at the use of ethnic nomenclature with nicknames centers around the genesis of the name and how it is treated — is it used as a reference to a group that is representative of the fan base or region as a whole, or intended to honor and pay tribute to a group with significant ties to the fan base or region? Or is intended as a cartoon, an avatar of an Other that is being hijacked so that certain stereotypical traits can be associated with the team?
Joe Posnanski, a sportswriter who grew up as a passionate Cleveland Indians fan, offers some perspective on the issue, as well as some history about the name. Given the recent developments, I am putting up a poll to see what LSB readers think of the possibility of the Cleveland Indians changing their name. Cast your vote below.
Are you for or against the Cleveland Indians changing their nickname?
This poll is closed
Strongly for changing the name
Somewhat for changing the name
Don’t care/No opinion
Somewhat against changing the name
Strongly against changing the name