The Cleveland baseball team, known since 1915 as the “Indians,” will drop the name and replace it with a new one, perhaps in 2022, according to published reports.
This retirement of a team nickname with a Native American reference is controversial with some and welcomed by others. It comes on the heels of the Washington NFL team abandoning the “Redskins” moniker for the generic “Washington Football Team.”
It’s possible that other potentially problematic sport teams names might change as well. While most big league operations are named after forces of nature, animals or legendary beings, some were derived from Native American influence. The Indians – previously the Blues, Broncos, Spiders and Naps – adopted the now-doomed name in honor of Louis “Chief” Sockalexis, who played for a Cleveland team in the 1890s.
In some ways, using references to tribal peoples was a tribute. Many tribes were considered mighty warriors of fierce resolve. However, the franchises using those names often resorted to thoughtless stereotypes such as “Chief Wahoo” (Cleveland) and “Chief Nok-A-Homa” (Atlanta).
In Major League Baseball, we still have the Braves, who migrated from Boston to Milwaukee to Georgia. In the NFL we have the Kansas City Chiefs; in the NHL we have the Chicago Blackhawks (or Black Hawks).
Colleges are grappling with the problem as well, with the University of Utah Utes, the Illinois Fighting Illini and Florida State Seminoles all having to defend their use of the names. In some cases, the tribes gave consent, provided the use of the name was handled respectfully.
The problem comes all the way down to area high schools. There are the Fullerton High Indians and the Canyon High School Comanches of Anaheim Hills.
To some people, this is nothing more than political correctness run amok. To others, it’s simply a matter of bringing some team names into the modern era.
Perhaps the real question is this: what is the intent of the use? If it’s done to persist in the idea that “Indians” are wild, primitive and violent, that’s a good reason to make a change. If it’s done to honor and emulate a people for their courage, independence and contributions to America, that’s a different situation altogether.
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