(By: Jack Longo)
“I hate it. It’s hard for me to believe it’s still happening. It’s one hundred per cent racist. It’s amazingly disrespectful. It’s long overdue. The name needs to be changed.”
Those are the words of Cyndy Baskin, Chair of the Aboriginal Education Council at Ryerson University.
These comments came after the recent court case in Toronto before Game 3 of the ALCS between the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians. Indigenous activist, Douglas Cardinal, made a motion to have Cleveland’s name and logo banned. Even though Cardinal is against using the name and logo in general, this case was specific to using the name while playing in Toronto.
The case was dismissed, but the negative public feedback has not stopped and likely won’t stop until both the name and logo are changed for good.
This is Cleveland’s mascot, known as Chief Wahoo. Although it has drawn much criticism, the current version has been in place since 1951.
The owner of the Cleveland Indians, Larry Dolan, has said he feels they are honouring Indigenous people by still using this name and logo, but the public opinion is largely against him.
Baskin also believes there are other ways to properly honour Indigenous people if the organization wishes to do so.
“How can people say that is honouring Indigenous people? That’s just the most ridiculous comment to hear. If they want to honour Indigenous people they will make the change.”
Impressions of the team
For Dolan and for Major League Baseball, should the biggest concern be how offensive people find the name and logo? Should they worry about the public’s negative perspective of the team and the league?
“It does affect my view on the team,” said Baskin. “I’m not much of a baseball fan; however, if I was, I wouldn’t watch games that they were playing in. I wouldn’t support them in any kind of way.”
For former Cleveland pitcher, Jeff Mutis, playing for the Indians never made him feel uncomfortable, but he does believe since times have changed, changing the name and logo is not such a bad idea.
“I never felt uncomfortable playing while wearing [the name and logo], but that was probably about 15 years ago and things have changed,” Mutis said. “I don’t have a problem with it, but I totally understand people’s opinions. I would be fine if they did make the decision to not use it anymore.”
A protester stands with his sign condemning Cleveland’s team name outside Progressive Field in Cleveland before the team’s home opener back in 2014. (Photo credit: Cleveland Scene)
Not a new discussion
The discussion surrounding Cleveland’s name and logo has been ongoing for years and not everyone finds it offensive. Two high-profile defenders of the name and logo come from within the Cleveland organization.
“Our name is steeped in history in honour of the first Native American to play Major League Baseball,” said Bob DiBiasio, the team’s senior vice president of public relations, in a 2007 article from The Boston Globe.
The same article quotes Dolan saying, “I have no problem with Chief Wahoo. I don’t think there is any disrespect meant. If I did, I would consider a change.”
Some fans have taken to social media to “Keep Chief Wahoo” – the Facebook page created to keep the mascot. The page currently has 15,265 likes. The about section states the logo is “not a social statement” and that people should “get over it and play ball!”
Ways to move forward
With the public protest and current spotlight on a team that was part of one of the most memorable World Series of all time, would this be the perfect time for the owners to make a statement in favour of all the protests?
Baskin says yes, and has some suggestions on how to do so.
“I think [the owners] should give a heartfelt apology showing that they recognize history. Then… hire an indigenous artist to come up with a new logo and ask the indigenous community in the area to help them change the name.”