By: Regina Brett
It’s hard to think about Chief Wahoo and Indians baseball without thinking about the best Super Bowl commercial no one saw during the game.
The two-minute ad called “Proud to Be” was all over Facebook. It was a plea from the National Congress of American Indians to change the mascot and name of the Washington Redskins.
Native Americans call it the “R” word. If you don’t think it’s offensive, you will after watching “Proud to Be” at www.changethemascot.org
It starts with gentle guitar music and shows images of Native Americans of all ages working, dancing, drumming, singing, smiling, teaching and parenting. They are old and young, successful and poor, strong and fierce, famous and forgotten. Not a single one of the people shown has skin that is red.
A man’s voice speaks for them all:
“Proud. Forgotten. Indian. Navajo. Blackfoot. Inuit. And Sioux.
“Survivor. Spiritualist. Patriot. Sitting Bull. Hiawatha. And Jim Thorpe.
“Mother. Father. Son. Daughter. Chief. Apache. Pueblo. Choctaw. Chippewa. And Crow.
“Underserved. Struggling. Resilient. Squanto. Red Cloud. Tecumseh. And Crazy Horse.
“Rancher. Teacher. Doctor. Soldier. Seminole. Seneca. Mohawk. And Creek.
“Mills. Will Rogers. Geronimo. Unyielding. Strong. Indomitable.
“Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don’t …”
It ends with a Redskins football helmet resting on a football field. No words are needed
The Washington Redskins. How can that name still exist in 2014?
In Cleveland, we don’t use the “R” word for our baseball team. We show it. We bring it out every spring: Chief Wahoo, bright red skin, big nose, giant teeth in a silly grin.
No team today would get away with portraying African-Americans or Jews in such a harsh way. We seem to act as if it doesn’t matter to do it to Native Americans, since there are so few of them left. If you know American history, you know why.
The editorial writers at The Plain Dealer, where I’ve been a columnist for 14 years, finally had the courage to call out Wahoo. In a recent editorial, the paper said it was time to bench Wahoo. Kick him off the roster forever.
Whether Chief Wahoo should stay or go isn’t a complicated issue. You could say it’s black and white. But it’s really red. Unfortunately, it’s bright, screaming red.
The team has taken a few steps. The team now uses three logos: Chief Wahoo, the block capital “C” and the word Indians in script. I’m guessing that Wahoo red face doesn’t go over well during spring training in Arizona where there are 21 Native American tribes.
Thank goodness the ball team retired the massive Chief Wahoo sign from the old ballpark when the team moved. Wahoo resides comfortably at the Western Reserve Historical Society.
He is history. He shouldn’t be part of our present or our future.
It doesn’t honor Native Americans or their legacy to keep the Wahoo logo on hats, jerseys and tickets. It doesn’t bring honor to our team.
Other sports teams have dropped mascots and changed team names. There’s a list at www.changethemascot.org. There you learn that in 2001 the Seminole, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Muskogee Nations passed a resolution “to eliminate the stereotypical use of American Indian names and images as mascots in sports and other events.”
And yet every year, we drag out the Chief. Some fans defend it by saying it honors Louis Sockalexis, the first Native American professional baseball player who inspired the naming of the Indians ball club.
Ed Rice, author of the book “Baseball’s First Indian, Louis Sockalexis: Penobscot Legend, Cleveland Indian” addressed this in January for Indian Country Today Media Network. He wrote:
“It’s clear to just about everyone who isn’t a Cleveland Indians fan that Chief Wahoo offers no honor, no respect whatsoever to Sockalexis, who died in 1913. Chief Wahoo only dates back to the late 1940s, when a young man sketched the crudest of American Indian images (some liken the original caricature – fairly – to the one Nazis used of Jews in their 1930s propaganda). Further, the original, vulgar design found acceptance in the late 1940s to early 1950s in an era when racial bigotry was a practical fact of life in U.S. society.”
He’s right. When I was in Warsaw, Poland, I saw a museum exhibit of political cartoons that portrayed Jews in horrible caricatures during the ’30s in an effort to dehumanize them.
Louis Sockalexis was Penobscot. In 2000, the Penobscot Indian Nation Council asked the Cleveland Indians to stop using Chief Wahoo.
We don’t have to wait for the team owners to stop. This one is up to the fans.
The home opener is Friday, April 4.
Closing Day on the Chief? That can start right now.
Do the right thing. Retire your Wahoo.