Photography by Gary W. Green / Akron Beacon Journal
Prior to the Major League Baseball season, ESPN.com writer Jim Caple wrote a column in which he ranked the league’s 30 team logos. I was eager to read it and thought that my favorite team, the Cleveland Indians, would finish high on the list because of its logo’s creativity.
Instead, Chief Wahoo finished dead last, not because, in Caple’s opinion, it lacked creativity or was poorly drawn, but because it was “wildly inappropriate.” In other words, he believes the logo of a smiling Indian face wearing a single feather is racist, offensive and insensitive.
He is not alone. Other columns and articles have been written saying much the same thing. Some have called for the logo to be removed, and others have even argued the name “Indians” should be replaced with something more politically correct.
It is no surprise that in today’s ultra-sensitive culture people would take offense to a Native American logo, because frankly, some individuals take offense to everything.
However, many of the people who argue this point, while doing a great job of calling Chief Wahoo offensive, fail miserably at explaining why.
Bob DiBiasio, vice president of media relations for the Cleveland Indians, knows that these feelings are out there, but said there is no intention to demean.
“We think it is strictly a caricature, strictly a logo that when people look at it, they think baseball,” he said.
This is the reason, he said, the logo is never animated or humanized, so as to not offend anyone. He also added that before anyone decides whether they like the logo or team name, they should understand the origin and history of how it came to be.
From 1903 to 1914, the team was called the “Cleveland Naps,” named after the legendary second baseman Napolean Lajoie. But upon Lajoie leaving after the 1914 season, it was apparent that finding a new team name was in order.
Baseball writers in Cleveland were called upon to select a new name, a request that eventually found its way to the fans. Through this process, the name “Indians” was agreed upon, in honor of Louis Francis Sockalexis, who played for the team in the late 1890s. Sockalexis was the first Native American to play professional baseball, and he did so in Cleveland.
“There is a history lesson to be learned here, first and foremost,” DiBiasio said. “Before you determine whether you like it or not, please understand why we do it.”
Organizations do not choose their teams’ names to express racist emotions toward a certain group of people. They choose their names to express strength, pride and, in the case of the Indians, respect.
I am afraid that we are slowly becoming a society that bends after every word of complaint. There are serious efforts in place to sterilize our culture, even in sports. But before anyone finds fault with the Indians’ name or logo, they should first learn the story behind it.
“We understand that social mores change,” DiBiasio said, “but we believe the historical significance of this is so deeply rooted in the fabric of our region that people know there is no intent to demean, and it is there to foster the legacy of Louis Sockalexis.”