Column: Retire outdated, racist mascots

Columnist Bailey Knecht suggests teams retire mascots that poorly depict Native Americans, such as the Cleveland Indians' Wahoo. / Photo courtesy Keith Allison, Creative Commons

By Bailey Knecht, sports columnist

Bailey Knecht

I’m a big fan of unique mascots and team names—the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, Trinity Christian College Trolls and Colby College Mules, in particular. That’s why I’m dumbfounded that, with such a plethora of options, so many organizations still—use some variation of a Native American for their mascots, from the Washington Redskins to the Chicago Blackhawks to the Florida State Seminoles.

Nearly all Native American mascot imagery in sports perpetuates the absurd stereotype that Native Americans are “savage” or “war-obsessed.” It creates a sweeping, negative bias toward Native American people that transcends sports and seeps into societal prejudices in general.

The Cleveland Indians of MLB are some of the worst perpetrators. Their logo, Chief Wahoo, depicts a goofy-looking man with a big smile and red face—a completely offensive caricature of a Native American man.

Cleveland has been in the news a lot lately because MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has asked the organization to transition away from its logo, particularly due to an increase in protesters outside of Cleveland’s Progressive Field on game days. The team has begun to make its “C” logo the focal point of apparel, with the image of Chief Wahoo less prevalent. I would hardly call this progress, though—the organization is conscientious enough to make that small change, but it is still actively choosing to preserve a clearly offensive image. And although the logo is obviously the most outrageous and offensive part, I don’t think it’s asking too much to replace the team name all together.

The only argument I’ve heard in favor of keeping the Indians’ mascot in place is a desire to maintain the “rich history” of the name and logo. The team has been called the Indians since the early 1900s, and the Chief Wahoo logo has been in place since the late ‘40s. But this argument, a glaring appeal to tradition, is nothing short of a logical fallacy. The mascot is not somehow acceptable or moral just because it has been around for a long time. Arguments like this are completely invalid and are only used by those who are stuck in the past, and who strive to hinder any sort of progress or change.

If I was a Cleveland fan, I would love for my team to shift away from its racist identity and start over. But if the Cleveland organization is truly afraid of losing its “storied” tradition and identity, it needs only look at other sports organizations that have changed their mascots and are still (surprise!) doing just fine. Most recently, the NBA team in Charlotte changed its name from the Bobcats to the Hornets. Although the transition cost the organization some money in rebranding, the identity change was ultimately a great opportunity for fan involvement and input in choosing the new logo, and it refreshed a tired marketing campaign in need of an upgrade.

If the racism argument isn’t strong enough to persuade the Cleveland organization to make an alteration, maybe it can be convinced by the prospect of reinvigorated marketing and media buzz. May I suggest a return to Cleveland’s old mascot, the Spiders? The name, which was used from 1887 to 1899, has plenty of its own history without the offensive, racial implications.

I recognize that I can’t speak for the Native American community—the opinions and voices of Native American people need to be at the forefront of this discussion. I do know one thing, though—the mockery and dehumanization of an entire race is shameful, and it’s time to make a change. In a time when systemic racism is so deeply entrenched in society, the simple act of replacing a team name seems like a no-brainer.

Featured photo courtesy Keith Allison, Creative Commons

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