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What’s in a Name?

Posted on: November 7th, 2016 by Larry

baseballThe ascendancy of the Cleveland Indians to the top of the baseball world this season has reignited an old controversy. Should the team change its name, or at least get rid of its logo—Chief Wahoo?  Many Native Americans have expressed their dismay with the caricature and the name. The National Congress of American Indians calls the imagery offensive and a cultural misappropriation. This season, the team replaced Chief Wahoo on its caps with a simple “C”. But during the World Series, the chief was back.

Some people feel that team nicknames and mascots such as the Indians, Braves, Chiefs and Redskins are a tribute rather than an insult. Others feel differently. Here are some perspectives from people who were asked their opinions during the Series. Share them with your family and talk about the issue at your dinner table:

  • Do you think Native Americans have a legitimate argument against the Indians and Chief Wahoo? Is this use of a racial identity different from something like the Boston Celtics and their leprechaun mascot? Why or why not?
  • Is tradition — in this case, the longstanding tradition of team names and mascots — an important factor in this case?
  • Do you think that a new team just starting out today would be able to call itself the Indians or Redskins?
  • Often, professional sports teams and their fans say that it’s just too difficult to change their name and/or mascot after many decades. But in some cases, such as the Stanford University athletic teams, name changes have been made — Stanford was once the Indians, but chose to replace that nickname with the Cardinals. Why do you think teams don’t change divisive names? What factors might go into making their decisions?
  • Do you think that there’s any inequality in the way that we view different races and ethnicities in cases like this? For example, Native Americans have argued that “Redskins” is a racial slur, yet the team name stands. Do you think people would feel differently about a team that bore a name or mascot that depicted another group, such as African Americans, Latinx people or Asians?