Last week at the National Museum of the American Indians in Washington, D.C., there was a symposium titled “Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports”. Naturally, the subject kept coming back to a local outfit called, believe it or not, the "Washington Redskins". From The Washington Post's Annys Shin, who was there:
Over the decades, the team’s owners have opposed a name change, citing tradition and poll results that showed a majority of Native Americans surveyed did not find the term insulting, including a 2002 Sports Illustrated poll.
"I have spoken to many, many Indian chiefs who say they have no objection whatsoever to the nickname. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a dead issue. I’m not even interested in it. The name of the Redskins will remain the Redskins," late owner Jack Kent Cooke said in 1994.
Dan Snyder has taken a similar stand and has declined to meet with Suzan Shown Harjo, the lead plaintiff in a 1992 lawsuit challenging the Redskins trademark. The case ended in 2009 after the Supreme Court declined to review a federal court’s decision to toss the lawsuit out on a technicality.
Harjo said she still gets death threats.
If Snyder were to change his mind, Harjo said, it would be a symbolic victory of national significance.
"It is the worst name we can be called in the English language," she said. "And it’s in the nation’s capital."
I didn't show up today to fight this fight. Granted, the name Redskins is really beyond the pale, don't you think? I mean, if you were driving through a reservation and your eight-year-old said, "Hey, look at all the redskins," you would immediately deliver a stern lecture. That word is an epithet, for gosh shakes.
What's bizarre about the whole controversy is that the Washington Redskins franchise wouldn't lose a single penny if they changed their name. They would sell exactly as many tickets, for exactly the same prices. And they would actually sell more merchandise, as fans (first) scarfed up the old stuff, then outfitted themselves in the new stuff. Fundamentally, it's just about near-billionaire Jack Kent Cooke and now-billionaire Dan Snyder giving the middle finger to political correctness because they're incredibly wealthy and have powerful friends. That is, because they can.
I don't have quite the same issue with the Indians, or the Braves or the Chiefs. Some consider it disrespectful to use a put-upon ethnic group for your identity, and perhaps it is. After all, today you wouldn't name a team the Blacks or the Jews or the Italians (and yes, I know about the Fighting Irish and the Vikings, but those are different). I do wish the Indians would lose the Chief Wahoo imagery, but I'm not here to re-fight that battle, either. And there's something to be said for tradition, especially when it's not blatantly racist.
No, today I'm hoping to offer something constructive: alternatives, in the likely eventuality that the Cleveland Indians, whether in two years or 20, adopt a new moniker. With that in mind, first let's run through every notable team name in the history of Cleveland baseball. Ready? We're heading all the way back to before your great-grandpappy was born, and maybe we'll get some retro-friendly ideas ...
Cleveland Bluebirds (1901) - I'd love to see a modern Bluebirds logo, but considering the similarity between Bluebirds and Blue Jays, and the proximity of Cleveland and Toronto, it's hard to imagine anybody rooting real big for this one.
Cleveland Naps (1903-1911) - Named after star and later player-manager Nap Lajoie. Doesn't exactly make for a stirring logo.
Cleveland Molly McGuires (1912-1914) - Named after manager Jim McGuire or, depending on you think about it, the Molly Maguires. Neither namesake seems likely to find great currency in the 21st Century.
Cleveland Forest City (Western League, 1885) - Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but maybe we'll revisit later ...
Cleveland Infants (Players' League, 1890) - Hmmm, probably wouldn't go over well with the players, especially with all the newly signed veterans. And I don't even want to think about the logo (actually, I would love to think about the logo, but for all the wrong reasons).
Cleveland Lake Shores (American League, 1900) - No, the American League wasn't a "major" league until 1901. Anyway, you can't call them the Lakers and you don't want to call them the Shores.
Cleveland Bearcats (American Association, 1914) - First, I'm not sure what a bearcat actually is. Second, for some reason the University of Cincinnati's teams were called "Bearcats" in -- coincidentally, it seems? -- 1914, and routinely since 1919.
Cleveland Spiders (1889-1899) - Yes, the Spiders are remembered for one thing: their ineptitude in 1899 when, stripped of their good players (including Cy Young), they went 20-134 before being dissolved after the season. It's been suggested that the current American League franchise just can't adopt the Spiders moniker because ... why, exactly? Is there some Curse of the Spiders? Will Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis be stricken with recurring nightmares about 1899?
Negro American League
Cleveland Bears (1939-1940) - NFL got there the firstest with the mostest.
Cleveland Buckeyes (1943-1948, 1950) - Sporting greats Sam Jethroe and Quincy Trouppe, the Buckeyes were one of the N.A.L.'s more interesting clubs. It's a great name for an Ohio sports team, too. Oh, but there might be just a bit of a branding problem.
Negro National League
Cleveland Tate Stars (1922) - Hmmm.
Cleveland Browns (1924) - Yes, the first Cleveland Browns was a baseball team. Who knew? But it's not going to happen again.
Cleveland Elites (1926) - Seems a bit presumptuous, no?
Cleveland Hornets (1927) - Now used by major basketball team ... but not for long! The New Orleans Hornets are soon becoming the New Orleans Pelicans ... thus arrying on the legacy of the old minor-league New Orleans Pelicans. It would be elegant, wouldn't it, if the basketball team handed off Hornets to the baseball team? Yes, except there's nothing particularly Hornets about Cleveland, and one season in the Negro National League isn't much of a legacy.
Cleveland Giants (1933) - Nope.
Cleveland Red Sox (1934) - Ummm.
So we've sort of struck out, except Spiders still belongs in the hopper. I think we can give Spiders some pretty good company, though. Remember Cleveland Forest City? Well, that name was simply Cleveland's nickname way back when: "the Forest City". I don't think anybody working at Jacobs Field wants to market "Forest Cities" t-shirts, but maybe some of the city's other nicknames will give us some ideas ... Here are a few of the more, umm, interesting nicknames:
America's Comeback City
America's North Coast
Mistake on the Lake
Okay, so we're not going to see the Cleveland Comebacks or the Cleveland Mistakes. Or the Cleveland Cleves, if only because the Phillies already mine that vein (sorry, 30 Rock fans). But if you'll forgive me, I think we might have happened upon an outstanding possibility ... Cleveland Coasters, which signifies the city's place on the shore of Lake Erie and references nearby Cedar Point amusement park, arguably the roller-coaster capital of the world.
Now, there's one more obvious possibility, because of this place. But what would you call the team? The Rocks? Or Rockers? Nope, too close to Rockies. The Rollers? Well, that's a possibility. Cleveland Rollers doesn't sound so awful. The problem is that Cleveland doesn't actually have any substantial ties to rock-and-roll music, except for Alan Freed (who promoted the term, "rock and roll"). But as near as I can tell, Cleveland got the Hall of Fame because the city fathers came up with $65 million before anybody else did. And it would seem a little odd, to me at least, to tie your 113-year-old sports franchise's identity to a 20-year-old museum.
But friends, I think we've got three serious candidates for our friends in the Cleve. What do you think?
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