The Cleveland Indians are a game away from the World Series, and the team’s post-season relevance offers an occasion to discuss the use of Native American images as mascots. Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indians’ mascot, is as bad as they get. According to a nice piece on Deadspin, “the franchise is celebrating by rubbing its racism in the faces of every person tuning in to watch baseball at the peak of its season.” Despite pledging to rely less upon the Chief Wahoo logo at the beginning of the season, the Indians’ owner Paul Dolan said that “Chief Wahoo . . . is part of our history and legacy.”
Major League Baseball seems to want the entire issue to go away. A statement from the league read:
“Major League Baseball appreciates the concerns of those that find the name and logo of the Cleveland Indians to be offensive. We would welcome a thoughtful and inclusive dialogue to address these concerns outside the context of litigation. Given the demands for completing the League Championship Series in a timely manner, MLB will defend Cleveland’s right to use their name that has been in existence for more than 100 years.”
So Carry On, Boys!
I have written about racists sports stereotypes in the past. Mascots are not the biggest problem facing native communities, and nobody claims that they are. Too many Indian communities, for instance, continue to struggle to enjoy the measured sovereignty permitted them by the most anti-Indian Supreme Court in American history. State and local governments mount aggressive campaigns designed to skim the cream off of the fragile prosperity that has emerged in some native communities, looking to tax gaming and retail businesses located on Indian land in opposition to a constitutional logic that has stood for almost 190 years. They challenge American Indian tribal sovereignty, and the pressure at times is relentless.
Meanwhile, Native Americans have lower life expectancy, higher rates of death from cancer, injury and suicide, and are more likely to be poor, unemployed, and the victims of violent crime than their non-Indian neighbors. According to the Indian Health Service, Native peoples are six times more likely to die from alcohol-related causes than other Americans, and twice as likely to develop cervical cancer, three times as likely to develop diabetes, eight times more likely to contract tuberculosis, and twice as likely to die from homicide. Efforts to recover lost lands, acquired from them in transactions that on their face violated federal law, have been stymied by hostile federal courts. The list of challenges facing Native American communities is a long one.
MLB clearly has permitted the Indians to continue to use Chief Wahoo, and the prevalence of this horrible mascot in the postseason shows that the Cleveland Indians organization, like the NFL’s Washington Redskins, has no intention of doing anything and that they are perfectly content using images that are terribly racist and offensive.