The issue of the no-longer-official logo of the Cleveland Indians isn’t going away anytime soon. It isn’t some clickbait hot take that will simply fade after the initial outrage. That issue goes away when Chief Wahoo does, and not a minute before. However, in the context of the 2016 American League Championship Series, the logo doesn’t stand alone on trial in the court of public opinion.
With Columbus Day barely in our rear view mirror, we were reminded once again, this October, that the culture or race of North America’s most indigenous people was improperly labeled as “Indian”. That’s particularly confusing, because Indians live in, or are from India. Getting back to Cleveland’s Major League Baseball chapter, the group they claim to honor does not care for the very name used to honor them, let alone the imagery.
Over the next week, we are going to take in anywhere between four and seven contests between the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians for a chance to play in the World Series. Most in Cleveland will tune in to TBS for the telecast or listen to Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus call the games over the Indians’ radio network. North of the border, the voice of the Blue Jays, Jerry Howarth has been the radio play-by-play announcer since 1981, and I’d never mentioned his name, until this week. In fact, I found it interesting that Howarth replaced former Indians pitcher, Early Wynn on the broadcasts.
The thing is, it’s nothing new for the 70 year-old Howarth, but it was brought to the public’s attention this week, that Blue Jays radio listeners will not hear him refer to Toronto’s opponent by their official name. Though people may be up in arms over this revelation in the current news cycle, he claims to have not called the Cleveland or Atlanta baseball teams by name since 1992. The genesis of this was an offended fan writing a letter to him after the Blue Jays bested the Braves in the World Series that year. What we have is a great example of how the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
"For the rest of my career I will not say ‘Indian’ or 'Brave.'" Jerry Howarth for the win. https://t.co/KdO4vXHUvj
— Matt Galloway (@mattgallowaycbc) October 11, 2016
What’s In a Name…or Lack Thereof?
Believe it or not, there are some folks that are upset about this. Not referring to someone by their given name can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect, and in many cases, that’s the actual intent. Bill Parcells may have done that in referring to Terrell Owens as “the player” and Ohio State fans affectionately refer to their rivals in Ann Arbor as “that school up north”. Hell, those paying attention to the Tribe’s series in Arlington this August, may have noticed a scorned Matt Underwood only referring to would-be Indian Jonathan Lucroy as “the Texas catcher”.
is Underwood referring to Lucroy as "the Rangers catcher". Haven't heard him call him by his name.
— Scott Duke (@Duker1993) August 27, 2016
WHY WON'T MATT UNDERWOOD SAY LUCROY'S NAME!?
— Alex DelPriore (@AlDelPriore) August 27, 2016
I would be lying to everyone to deny that I engage in this practice of not dignifying someone’s existence by doing as much as using their name. In the past week and a half alone, I’ve referred to the Red Sox DH as “Dave” and the Texas catcher as “Jon” on my personal Facebook page. No one gets hurt, though my intentions are obviously sprinkled with a little bit of malice, whereas Howarth intends to be worldly.
I guess I’ll just never understand the criticism of those who want to make the world better, when there’s literally no harm in their actions. Despite poor home attendance numbers, which are so disproportionate to the success of the Tribe, Cleveland is not starving for the brand awareness they’re seemingly deprived of, in Canada. He and Jamie Campbell of Sportsnet are bringing awareness to a decades-old fan grievance, a grievance you’ll hear from people of all races across the continent.
Like Jerry Howarth, I will attempt to avoid using the name of Cleveland's baseball team during our broadcasts. #NotYourMascot
— Jamie Campbell (@SNETCampbell) October 11, 2016
Groups of people shouldn’t be branded in any way, and you can save me your sarcastic rants about the Fighting Irish and whatever other non-offensive pseudo-parallel you might want to draw.
Precedent For Change
What’s the endgame for those that have waged protest against the use of Indians name? Like the anti-Wahoo demographic, the answer is simply change. Getting rid of the Chief Wahoo logo is a good start, and it seems simple enough to do, yet there’s resistance. And let’s face it, re-designing a logo is a much less drastic change than to reinvent your brand’s identity. There are fans in Cleveland that cannot stand the corporate name that took over at their beloved Jacobs Field, imagine something new and different for the team they support.
The thing is, we’ve seen change before in sport. We’ve seen the Charlotte Bobcats reclaim their Hornets name from New Orleans, and Washington Bullets became the Wizards, due to the violent overtones associated with bullets in the nation’s capital. The Supersonics became the Thunder and the Oilers became the Titans, but mostly to create a new identity in a new city. Change due to offending people in the modern day is something we’ve only seen at the collegiate level.
As close as Oxford, Ohio, the Miami Redskins are now the Miami RedHawks. The St. John’s Red Men are now the Red Storm, and the Stanford Indians have been the Stanford Cardinal for as long as I can remember. My own high school in Willoughby, Ohio faced scrutiny, and appropriately so, for use of the Confederate Battle Flag on team uniforms, and they ditched those threads. A side note there, the flag has been gone in an official capacity since 1993, but the Rebel name and mascot are still contested for the same reasons.
It makes me wonder; if Chief Wahoo is phased out, how far behind is the push for a name change? I would think any admission of the logo being derogatory would set precedent for the same view of the Indians name itself. Personally, though I’m not a vocal advocate for change, I would be quite content with a new identity for baseball at the corner of Ontario and Carnegie. I also think the war on the Redskins name in Washington DC absorbs a lot of the flack from the activists that Cleveland would take on, if not for the more pressing issue with the NFL.
Speaking of Washington’s NFL chapter, I know it’s a joke, but there’s a silly resolution that Tony Kornheiser has brought up for year. Put potatoes on the helmet, and red skin becomes a little more fitting and socially acceptable. To translate that to Cleveland Indians-speak, you’d be disassociating from the Native Americans you’ve rubbed the wrong way and replacing them with the Indians from the India in Asia. Wait, that’s not going to work either.
Winning Doesn’t Always Cure All
I’ve been hearing it since the Cavs were on glory’s doorstep last spring, winning cures all. It’s mostly true, based on how quickly I let go of the firing of David Blatt and The Decision, but then again, I care about the Cavaliers. For those that do care about Cleveland baseball, but oppose Chief Wahoo and perhaps even the Indians name, they’re in a bind. “World Champion Cleveland Indians” isn’t a label that fixes the issue.
However, winning is a solid conclusion to a long contentious saga. A third World Championship in 115 years could be a great way to simply close the book on the controversy. 2017 could truly be a new beginning.
If that were to happen, and we actually know it will not, small gestures from the likes of Jerry Howarth deserve some credit.