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Sockalexis Again

So, you probably heard that Toronto Blue Jays announcing legend Jerry Howarth will not say “Indians,” when referring to Cleveland’s baseball team during this year’s American League Championship Series. He apparently has refused to use the word since 1992, when he received an eloquent letter from a Native American about the hurt caused by such nicknames.

So I’d like to, once again, talk for a few minutes about the Indians name got started. I wrote a very long piece on this subject a couple of years ago and added an addendum a few days later. That piece is not quite that long (but it’s not short either).

When I was a kid, it was an accepted fact that the Cleveland Indians were named to honor a Native American player named Louis Sockalexis.

When I was older, it was an accepted fact that the Cleveland Indians DID NOT name the team for Sockalexis, and that whole story was an invention to cover up for the nickname’s racist origins.

And, as I wrote in the even longer piece, neither one is quite fact. The truth is not exactly in the middle either; it sort of floats from side to side like a balloon dancing in the wind.

Louis Sockalexis was a brilliant, haunted, inspired and troubled baseball player as the 19th century came to a close. He was the first full-blooded Native American to play baseball in the Major Leagues. In many ways, he was the first Native American to splash on the American sports scene. He predated Jim Thorpe by about 15 years.

Sockalexis joined the Cleveland baseball team in the same decade as the Wounded Knee Massacre, to give you an idea of the timing.

He was a physical marvel; sort of smaller Bo Jackson. His arm was legendary. It was said that he threw a ball across the Penobscot River, a throw of more than 600 feet. It was documented that in a college game at Harvard — this while he played center field for Holy Cross — he made a throw from centerfield that sailed for more than 400 feet. He plainly had blazing speed, and there is some evidence that he could hit with power. He was something else.

The Cleveland Spiders signed Sockalexis in 1897 when he was still at Notre Dame. There are various legends about that — I highly recommend Ed Rice’s informative “Baseball’s First Indian,” for details — but two things seem clear:

1. Socklaexis was an amazing talent. Cleveland reportedly paid him $1,500, a tidy sum. And his signing was pretty big news.

2. Sockalexis already had a drinking problem. He had been arrested while at Notre Dame for an incident at a bar. There is some evidence that Cleveland had a “no drinking” clause in the contract.

Sockalexis was an immediate phenomenon. Part of this was his play. In his first six exhibition games, according to reports, he had eight outfield assists — four of them at the plate. But it was his ethnicity, as a full-blooded American Indian, that sparked the wonder of fans and the creative juices of reporters. Fans cheered and taunted him from the start. And reporters filled story after story with war whoops and tomahawks and firewater. The Sporting News called him “The Best Advertised Player In The Business.”

Here, in the Louisville Courier-Journal, would be one of the more positive mentions of Sockalexis:

“Sockalexis, the Indian, was cheered at almost every move,” wrote the Louisville Courier-Journal after his first game. “The crowd tried to have some fun with Socklalexis’ name and imitated the war whoop of various Indian tribes, to all of which the handsome Indian smiled good-naturedly. He is educated and cultivated.”

Most of the other stories were much darker.  At games, he received threats, was called every conceivable name, and he never could escape the whoops that echoed wherever he played. In the papers, he was called a savage (sometimes a noble savage), a red man, a redskin, and so on. Sometimes he was called these things in a matter-of-fact way, the way you might call a pitcher a “lefty.” Sometimes, he was called these things in an obviously degrading way.

“Had I cared,” he told the Milwaukee Journal in 1898, “they would have driven me out of the business long ago. I got it from the very first day I played.”

This is not the story of Sockalexis, not exactly. What’s important to know is that his career turned sour very quickly. He might have been an alcoholic when he joined the Spiders, but his drinking grew worse as he endured the strain of being a pioneer. After a very good first year in 1897, his skills declined rapidly. By 1898, he was essentially done as a player. By 1899, he was out of baseball.

But, it is true that during his time he had a real impact on the Cleveland Spiders. During that time, the Spiders were often referred to in newspaper stories as “Indians” or “Red Men” or “Warriors” or some such thing. There are at least three reasons for this.

One, just about everybody DESPISED the Spiders nickname.

Two, the Spiders were a mediocre team (then a dreadful one) and even though they did feature Hall of Famers Jesse Burkett and Cy Young, Sockalexis was the most interesting thing going on.

And three, the “Indians” nickname was, more often than not, used pejoratively — “derogatory slurs directed at Sockalexis,” as Ed Rice writes.

People tend to think there’s a direct line between the Cleveland Indians today and the Spiders of Sockalexis, but it isn’t so. The Cleveland Spiders played in the National League and for various reasons — mainly because the Spiders owner bought a team in St. Louis and decided to abandon Cleveland — the team drew so few fans in 1899 that they were forced by the other teams to play 112 of their 154 games on the road.

After the season, the Spiders were contracted along with teams in Washington, Baltimore, and Louisville. It was that outrage that, in part, led to the ascension of the American League.

And it was a completely different Cleveland team that debuted with the now major league American League in 1901.  The team was supposed to be called the Cleveland Bluebirds because that apparently was the only name anyone could think of that was more humiliating than Spiders (and the players were sent out wearing bright blue uniforms).

For headline use, the name was shortened to Blues, but nobody liked that either. In 1902, the players voted to call themselves the Bronchos because of course they did.* Nobody bought the Bronchos name though, and then during the 1902 season when the team acquired the phenomenal Nap Lajoie.

*It’s sort of like the way Brian decided to call his crime-fighting gang the “The Bruntouchables” on “Limitless.” I miss that show.

Lajoie was already a legend. He’d won two batting titles, and he’d hit .426 for Philadelphia in 1901. The American League was, in many ways, built around him. So when Cleveland got him, the team almost immediately started being known as the Naps. They were the Naps for a decade or so.

By 1914, though, the Naps name seemed pretty ridiculous. The team was terrible and Lajoie was 39 years old and done. More than one joke was made about how the team needed a Nap. Lajoie limped back to Philadelphia for a couple more seasons, and Cleveland needed a new nickname.

It’s often said that there was a contest to name the 1915 Cleveland baseball team, but that isn’t exactly right. Team owner Charles Somers put together a task force of sportswriters from the four Cleveland newspapers and charged them with coming up with a name for the team.

Best I can tell from all the research, there were two major factors in choosing Indians.

1. Native American names were all the rage in 1914 because that was the year of Boston’s Miracle Braves, who were in last place on July 4 and then somehow won 70 of their last 89 games to win the National League by 10 1/2 games. Boston then swept the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. The nation was whooping for the Braves, and so a Native American nickname made a lot of sense.

2. Cleveland did have that Sockalexis connection from the 19th century when the team was often called the Indians. This from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“Many years ago there was an Indian named Sockalexis who was the star player of the Cleveland baseball club. As a batter, fielder and base runner he was a marvel. Sockalexis so outshone his teammates that he naturally came to be regarded as the whole team. The fans throughout the country began to call the Clevelanders “the Indians.” It was an honorable name, and while it stuck the team made an excellent record. It has now been decided to revive this name.”

People will argue forever about whether the Indians name was created in a cynical ploy to both mock and cash in on Native American culture — not unlike singing in blackface — or if it was a way to honor a pioneering Native American baseball player who, for a short time, thrilled people with his play. People will forever argue if the Chief Wahoo logo, which apparently was inspired by the “Little Indian” cartoon that would run in the newspaper, is a harmless caricature or a racist one. The split is fierce and passionate.

I have made my opinion clear on the subject: Even as a lifelong Cleveland baseball fan I still would LOVE for the team to change its name and, even more, I would LOVE for that Chief Wahoo logo to disappear. Getting rid of both seems to me such an easy way to raise the discourse at a time in America when we could use that.

Others fight ferociously to keep the name and the logo because they believe it has tradition (and, they might add, too many don’t respect tradition) and they will say it clearly is not meant to demean anyone.

In other words: The nickname fight has come to stand in for other larger fights, fights over political correctness and the scope of empathy and the power of history and the importance of connecting with and breaking from the past. That stuff sounds a lot like politics. We try not to do politics here.

In other words, I think there is only one thing we all can agree on: Bronchos is a cool name. The H is what makes it cool.

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81 Responses to Sockalexis Again

  1. Greg Tamblyn says:

    Bronchos is too close to Bronchitis.

  2. Jon Gale says:

    Not if you have bronchitis.

  3. Paul Schroeder says:

    I have read all your writing on this, Joe. The one question I have not seen answered by you or anyone is what possible reason would a team owner have to give their team a racist nickname?

    We want our teams to be made up of athletes who are fearless, brave, skilled and representative of our communities in a positive way. A racist nickname does none of those things. No one would name their team the Morons.

    In light of that, I have to assume that even names like the Redskins were given to connote the bravery of Native American warriors, not to mock them and, by extension, the athletes playing for the team.


    • Chris H says:

      I think you are probably right about that. But times change; we grow smarter and perhaps more enlightened, and maybe today we can see that, whatever honor may have been and may be intended by the name, it equally reduces nations of people to the status of animals (blue jays, cubs, what have you).

      More than that, over time, symbols take on meanings that go beyond the original intent or the thing itself. In so doing, a once benign name or image, one intended to pay homage to what it represents, becomes instead a reminder of a less enlightened time, and to an injured party, maybe a hurtful reminder. No offense may be intended, but nevertheless, offense is given. You can probably think of examples.

      (And let’s be honest, it’s really hard to see that the image of Chief Wahoo was ever benign. The name may not be intended to mock, but the logo?)

      I appreciate your thoughtful comment, and those that have followed.

    • SDG says:

      It isn’t racist because it’s directly insulting, but because it’s stereotypical. It’s a culture that is separate from yours, and has power over you, representing you in a way that is false. It’s other people telling you who you are. There’s nothing wrong with being good with money, but Jews, rightly, hate it when people act like believing that stereotype is a good thing.

      Although one thing I’ve always wondered ism why is “Indians” racist, but “Vikings” isn’t? They both play on the exact same stereotype of fierce, dangerous, warriors, but in one case it’s demeaning and in one case it’s innocuous. I’m not asking that as a gotcha question. I genuinely want to know.

      I think it’s possible, that, regardless of the origins of the name, it’s possible to reclaim the positive parts of the Sockalexis story and say the name in now honoring him and his legacy, even if that wasn’t the original reason for it. No defending Chief Wahoo, though.

      • Chris H says:

        I think it’s fair to say that there isn’t anyone alive today in the United States who is burdened with a stereotype of Vikings (and I’ll grant you that the Vikings are depicted as not merely fierce warriors but pillaging hordes). There are many Indians alive today who face the various stereotypes and are treated as exotic others.

        People do raise the “what about the Fighting Irish?” question, although usually rhetorical. I don’t know why more people aren’t insulted by that, to be honest. But maybe the Irish stereotype doesn’t have as firm a hold on the public consciousness (other than on March 17), or maybe the relative wealth of Irish Americans, compared to Indians, makes the stereotypes less damaging.

        • SDG says:

          I think the difference is ownership. Notre Dame was an Irish Catholic institution and it was in control of the image. They were reclaiming it and using it for themselves. It wasn’t imposed on them by a powerful group that discriminated against them. Although now I’m wondering – do Irish people complain about ND? Does anyone even care? My sense is that the Irish have so thoroughly assimilated that stereotypes about them no longer exist.

          That’s not the case here. If the Cleveland Indians were historically created by and run by Native Americans, the name and image would be seen differently.

          Although non-Native-Americans don’t really think of Native Americans at all. There was a white catcher at the turn of the century nicknamed Chief because he was on a team that had a rep for being fast, so they were nicknamed the Indians and he was called “Chief”. Have you even heard of the stereotype that Native Americans are fast runners? I haven’t.

          • invitro says:

            “Although now I’m wondering – do Irish people complain about ND?” — Do Indians complain about “Indians” or “Redskins”? More than ten percent of them? Does it matter?

          • Brent says:

            Actually I am pretty sure the origin of “Fighting Irish” was imposed on them by the WASPY schools they were playing in football in the early 2oth century, to the point that there was probably an implied Shiftless in between Fighting and Irish when originally used

        • David Leppik says:

          That’s simple. (Speaking as a Minnesotan here.) Minnesota is (or was) largely ethnic German, with a large Scandinavian minority.

          When the US entered World War II, Minnesota downplayed the German connection, and started the myth of being primarily Scandinavian. What’s more, the Scandinavian-American stereotype that took hold was one of quiet, stoic, passive farmers. So it’s nice to occasionally bring out the viking heritage as a counterpoint.

          The aggressive viking is seen as a historical figure; an assertive component in an otherwise stoic identity; a part of the Minnesota personality that only comes out when Minnesota Nice isn’t working.

          The important point here is that the viking persona/stereotype is perceived as belonging to an empowered majority with control over their identity.

        • Marc Schneider says:

          The difference is historical context. I hate to use this kind of jargon, but the Irish are now considered “white” so they don’t really face the kind of discrimination they did in the 19th century. (As you suggest in your comment.) As a result, the stereotype doesn’t have much force. Does anyone today really think of Irish people as being a bunch of drunken hooligans? The same thing with the Vikings. Stereotypes of other groups still have force and can lead to negative consequences. There are lots of stereotypes about whites that are largely untrue and they can have some consequences. Jason Sehorn, for example, was for some time the only white cornerback in the NFL and I’m sure the reason was the stereotype that whites weren’t fast or something like that. He probably had some trouble getting a shot at that position. But, obviously, stereotypes about whites don’t carry the same implications as stereotypes about blacks or Jews or Asians, etc.

      • Dave says:

        Uh, big Tribe fan here. Personally, I don’t even think about the emotions calling the baseball team in Cleveland the Indians evokes. But since I’m only a caucasian male, I only know that I will never ever fully understand what it’s like to be female, black, or any other sort of minority.

        (Please, peace all. Just explaining my shortcomings.I’ll definitely miss being a “Tribe” fan and all that surrounds the name, but as long as they don’t change anything else about the team – *cough* Browns/Modell *cough* – I’ll stick with them.)

        My main point is to reply the SDG in regards to the Vikings. In my opinion the biggest reason nobody equates that is, well, facts. 🙂

        — I know of no living Vikings. OTOH, There are quite a few living American Indians.
        — My recollection (I could be wrong here) says that the Vikings were never “beaten in war” on this continent and thus were never “dominated” here.

        Final point: I only know of two “Viking” teams (Minnesota and Cleveland State) and from what I can tell their logos are *nothing* like Chief Wahoo. While (again) I personally find nothing degrading about it, I certainly can appreciate that others do.


        • Marc Schneider says:

          I think that, when people think about a team’s nickname, they aren’t thinking about the actual item represented. For example, when you think about the Detroit Tigers, what comes to mind is a baseball player, not an actual Tiger. Same with the Cleveland Indians; I doubt many people, when they hear that, conjure up a Native American. They think about a baseball player. That’s not saying such a nickname is appropriate, but I doubt that it really entrenches stereotypes about groups. I think people realize that Native Americans aren’t like Chief Wahoo. Same thing with the Washington Redskins; the name probably is derogatory in current context, but I don’t think many Washington fans see the name and associate it with characteristics of actual Native Americans. As a DC-area resident, I suspect the first thing they think of is John Riggins or, maybe, in a negative context, Dan Snyder.

          That’s not to defend these kinds of nicknames but just to point out that what they really stand for is the teams.

    • Scott says:

      My understanding is that Redskins’ name has little to do with specific views towards American Indians. The team was originally based in Boston, and like many teams of the day shared a name with the local baseball team (the Boston Braves). When the team started playing its games in Fenway Park, they had to change the name to avoid the direct connotation with the Red Sox’s competition. However, the owner didn’t want to order new uniforms, so he picked Redskins, which would allow him to keep the logo.

      • Grover Cleveland says:

        Just because it’s based on the Boston Braves doesn’t actually say anything about its origins, though.

        But I think most of this research and speculation about the actual origins is missing the point. Imagine if I started a sports team in 1750 called “The N—-rs” after some foreign language word just meaning “Athlete.” No connection to the N word we know today.(Contrived, I know, but bear with me.) Totally innocent motivations, never intended to hurt anyone, and all that. But, in 2016, would I not be kind of a jerk to insist on continuing to use that name, even though to many, many, many people that word causes pain?

        The intent of a bunch of long-dead guys changes literally nothing about all the stereotypical imagery used by the team. Kids are taught that “Indians” are a fun mythical creature like unicorns or leprechauns, not real people still alive today, who were massacred and still suffer.

        When it comes to matters of race and similar sensitive issues, intention matters substantially less than the way people hear it — especially since it’s unreasonable to suppose that everyone who hears the name of the team will immediately go take history lesson about the exact origins of the name.

  4. murr2825 says:

    I think the Spiders would be the coolest nickname in baseball

    • SDG says:

      I know! I get why the team can’t call themselves that NOW, since the original Spiders are famous for sucking worse than any other team in baseball, but why is Joe saying it’s intrinsically a mockable name? Spiders are awesome! It’s recognizable iconographically, it’s not generic (there are no other teams call the Spiders, that I’m aware of) and the merchandising and mascot possibilities are endless. They should have kept the name, or brought it back like how the Mets took inspiration from the old Metropolitans.

  5. Eddie Ever says:

    Can you imagine that logo on a Native American’s uniform? If we had a Native American ballplayer would he be offended, or angry, or just weary? Is the situation similar to having a team today called, say, The Atlanta Slaves? I suggest, politely, that if a Native American made it to the Show, Cleveland’s team would immediately morph into The Rockers or Rockstars or something. (You can have that for free. I am just a force for good in my time.)

    • Tampa Mike says:

      Does Jacoby Ellsbury need to sign with Cleveland to make it to the Show?

    • SDG says:

      Already happened. Joba Chamberlain and Jacoby Ellesbury both were on champoinship teams. No one really talks about their ancestry, though. And that’s just in the present day. There was Allie Reynolds in the 50s, and plenty of players in the early era nicknamed “Chief”. One, Albert “Chief” Bender, is in the Hall. (Connie Mack said Bender was his favourite, even though he tried to keep black people out of both baseball and his neighbourhood. Racism doesn’t make sense).

      The Rockers would be a good name in theory, but Colorado basically took that name already.

  6. Glenn says:

    On the one hand, I’m with Mr. Schroeder on this: I have to believe the teams with names referring to Native Americans (Braves, Redskins, Indians) had to have been drawing on only the positive qualities when those names were chosen. (I disagree with Mr. Schroeder regarding “Morons”, though; I would TOTALLY use that as a team name! 🙂

    Then again, I’d look like the RCA dog if I heard of a team calling itself the “Honkeys”, no matter the reasoning. (“We chose that name to represent the fighting spirit of Honkeys everywhere!”)

    And yet…I ride an Indian motorcycle. Should that brand be changed as well? Is the intent to strike the term “Indian” (and all similar terms) from our vernacular — lest one be deemed “racist” — except when referring specifically and directly to the Native American people?

    (I can see striking “Redskins”, as I am unable to come up with a positive use for that, but “Braves” and “Indians”?)

    • SDG says:

      I agree that “Redskins” is categorically different, because it’s never not been used as a slur.

      But while there isn’t a team called the “Honkeys” (a word I don’t think anyone’s ever actually used) there is one called the Vikings. It’s a stereotypical depiction of a group of white people, and from what I can tell no one is offended.

      Sterotypical depictions of other cultures, even when positive, is weird. I remember reading a few years ago that the Masai people of East Africa tried to copyright their image so if Western sportswear companies tried to use their name or iconography at least the Masai would get paid. I bet if something similar happened here the Cleveland Indians would drop their name REAL fast.

      • nightfly says:

        The Indians and Louis Sockalexis in some way resemble the Chicago Blackhawks, whose name was inspired by a specific person. Perhaps because it is a definitive link rather than speculative, they have gotten much less heat over the name.

        There are also teams called Raiders, Pirates, and Buccaneers – none of those things are positive in any way, and piracy on the high seas is in fact a serious current problem. Nobody complains, though, that those names embody negative stereotypes or even negative imagery. In the case of the Raiders, they even tend to play up the bad boy image.

        To a lesser extent, you have the Celtics (nobody cares) and the Canucks (nobody cares), to a lesser extent the Cavaliers and Yankees (nobody cares), and there’s the Kansas City Chiefs – about whom, if there has been a stink, it’s much more muted than it is for the Redskins, Indians, Braves, and the various NCAA teams.

        There’s obviously a line, and there are things that obviously fall on one or the other side. Nobody is going to go after the St. Louis Blues for their name. But I see where this could become a problem when it comes to understanding other cultures or historical issues. Chief Wahoo is ridiculous… was Chief Illiniwek also? The Seminoles approve of FSU and their nickname, the embodiment of which rides out to midfield and spears the stadium logo. The Peoria Tribes similarly supported Illiniwek, until they suddenly didn’t, and he was gone. Was it the dancing? It seems not to be a problem in rugby; New Zealand’s players do it, and for much the same reason, although there many of the players actually are of Maori descent.

        It gets pretty complicated when we’re trying to preserve and honor cultures and people who were historically enemies or victims. I’m not sure how I’d react if the Native Americans had eventually swamped the colonial powers, and my family had immigrated to a US that was predominantly Indian… would they still, in fact, have teams named Chiefs and Braves? Would “Celtics” be considered derogatory, would the Yankees be called the Paisanos or something? Not only do I not know how I’d feel, I don’t know if the feeling would even be justified.

  7. Glenn says:

    P.S. Regarding Duane Kuiper…I moved recently from the SF Bay Area to San Diego. The biggest thing I miss about not being in the Bay Area? Listening to Kruk and Kuip call the Giants games. The give THE best commentary. Others provide more stats, but so what; Kruk and Kuip provide much more insight into the players, and K+K’s love for the game is something else. And if you’re lucky enough to attend a game at AT&T Park, Renel Brooks-Moon is phenomenal.

    • Jesse K. says:


      I live away from my teams too, but I’m able to listen to the games thanks to the MLB At Bat app on my phone. It’s only $2.99 per month, and I can listen to every team’s games, with local announcers. My phone is a few years old; I don’t know if it is more expensive on fancier phones. But it’s one gem of a deal–especially since I don’t have TV. I listened to Jon Miller & Co. during the NLDS, which was much nicer than whatever announcers were on TV.

      I know K & K are mostly TV, but thought I would mention this in case you didn’t know about it.

  8. Tom says:

    Paul: Racism isn’t a (pardon the pun) black-and-white issue. There’s many ways to be racist. Perhaps the more specific and relevant term here would be “cultural appropriation”.

  9. Tom says:

    Glenn: “And yet…I ride an Indian motorcycle. Should that brand be changed as well?”

    Interestingly, the company’s name was changed to that in Sockalexis’s second year as a professional baseball player, and they were founded in Massachusetts, not too far from where the Boston Braves played. That name came out of exactly the same environment of cultural appropriation as these sports team nicknames.

    So yes, I would say it should. For people who truly care about tradition, they should love the idea of the company reverting to its original name: Hendee.

    There is, after all, plenty of precedent for an American motorcycle company being named after its founders. 🙂

  10. Huck says:

    How about the “Cleveland Politicians”?

  11. Bruce Mc says:

    I did not know about the Indian motorcycle name, that’s interesting info. Some of my family members attended and worked at Stanford University when they dropped the Indian name in the 1970’s. Those were interesting times.

    I think an exercise for those who feel passionate about keeping the Indians name on the baseball team is to look at another example where they don’t have as much emotion invested.

    Recently my brother was working in a small town in South Dakota for a few weeks. The high school there calls their sports teams the Midgets. He sent me a copy of the local paper, in which there was a letter to the editor from the Little People of America. The LPA said in their letter that they wanted to see the name changed.

    It seems to me like this would be a simple and smart thing to do, but letter writers to the paper from people who graduated from that high school and played on their sports teams did not agree.

    Another way to think about this is, if there was a brand new team being started in the US now, would anybody consider Indians or Midgets for a name?

    • SDG says:

      Of course not. Just like no one ever talks about how silly it is that there are teams in Los Angeles named for lakes, and for public transportation. (That’s funny if you’ve ever been to L.A.). We even got used to The The Angels Angels of Anaheim. And you know what – I bet if the Indians or Braves ever change cities, they will change the names.

      It’s part of the wallpaper. There are plenty of things that people would have no problem changing, but being ASKED TO change them gets their back up because they don’t want to be told what to do. Kind of like how plenty of Republicans privately believed the Confederate flag should be taken off government property, but when non-Republicans demand they get rid of the flag, these same politicians start screeching about political correctness.

  12. Dave says:

    Just had to agree that I really miss Limitless too.

    If the Indians want to keep the name out of respect for tradition, they should play only music of the period and serve only historically accurate food and drink. Probably lose any black players too. They were whitewashing the history of that name when they took it, and they should sever that tie to the past as they have all the inconvenient ones.

  13. Mark Swiencki says:

    In other words: The nickname fight has come to stand in for other larger fights, fights over political correctness and the scope of empathy and the power of history and the importance of connecting with and breaking from the past. That stuff sounds a lot like politics. We try not to do politics here.

    A brilliant paragraph.

  14. Nitin D says:

    Is it worth mentioning that “Indians” without any other qualifiers only correctly refers to people from *India*?

    • GWO says:

      Well that’s certainly the reason that the Mumbai Indians cricket team doesn’t seem to get caught up in this controversy.

    • invitro says:

      This is false. The correct use of language isn’t determined by you; it’s determined by how the majority of people use it. Since the majority of people use “Indians” to (also) mean native Americans, that usage is correct.

    • MikeN says:

      And swastikas only refer to Hindu symbols, right?

  15. Ray Talerico says:

    Ask the Seminoles if they still have a problem with their name being used. Not anymore. Not since the college started paying them. It’s all about money. By the way I’M Italian and I’m offended by Mario of the Mario Bros video game….NOT!

    • GWO says:

      The Seminoles are an instructive example – and not for the reason you give. Since the 1970s FSU have worked really closely with the Seminole tribe to integrate positive elements of traditional Seminole culture and history into the FSU Seminole brand, and at the same time eliminate the stereotypical elements.

      So Chief Osceola is celebrated, the dress and attire of the mascots is now (mostly) historically accurate (previously they dressed in garb associated with the Sioux), though with a nod to FSU tradition. They’ve phased out the “Scalp Hunter” name for booster clubs; the logo is a severe looking Seminole warrior, not a cheesy “Chief Wahoo.

      • invitro says:

        I like this paragraph from a wikipedia article:

        During his tenure as Indians President, Peter Bavasi asked players how the team’s uniforms should look. Bavasi has described Joe Carter and Pat Tabler suggesting that Chief Wahoo be added to the hats, with Tabler predicting that it would “sell like crazy”. Bavasi recalls expressing concern that it would offend Native American groups, but that player Bert Blyleven reassured him, “Nah, it shouldn’t. Really looks like [manager] Phil Seghi.” Blyleven made a similar remark to Sports Illustrated, and the magazine described the resemblance as “uncanny”. Tabler’s prediction was ultimately borne out, with hat sales increasing significantly after the reintroduction of Chief Wahoo. The revised hat design has been described as a change “in keeping with Major League Baseball’s trend toward ‘old-style’ simulacra.”

  16. Kuip says:

    How about changing the name to the old Negro League name, Buckeyes?

  17. Grover Jones says:

    But is this the role of an announcer? If someone paid by an MLB team can’t be bothered to say the name of another MLB team, should he still have a job? Or if he has personal convictions, fine, but I don’t see the need to “announce” them to the world.

    • Dan says:

      Whether he should still have a job is for the Jays to decide, and I think it’s pretty clear how they came down.

      FWIW, he hasn’t made a big deal about his convictions, to his credit I think. I grew up in Southern Ontario, was a Jays fan, listened to countless broadcasts, and never even knew this was a thing. He just hasn’t said that word for 20 years, without any fanfare about it. It only became a thing because someone asked him about it recently.

  18. invitro says:

    I can’t believe no one (including Joe) has brought up the fact that Joe boycotted the name “Redskins” for a long time, and then resumed using it, in a post of a week ago, if not earlier. (I hope I have these facts correct! :)) His resumption is probably due to that famous Washington Post survey that revealed that something like 90% of Indians approved of the Redskins name.

    This should be illuminating. Perhaps some of these guys who get all bent out of shape about “cultural appropriation” (which everybody does and isn’t a bad thing at all) or their ignorant ideas on what is racist really do have good intentions. I think most of them just want to feel better than other people, more moral than other people, by calling others racists. But even the ones with good intentions are just plain lazy; they don’t do the research to find if a name like Redskins or Indians ACTUALLY HURTS people, or in fact is appreciated by them. There was already a plethora of evidence that these names are considered a plus by Indians before the Post report; after the report, no one except a few losers that are just desperate to hold on to what they feel is their moral superiority can deny the truth.

    I urge anyone who is considering going around calling other people racist for saying Indians and Redskins (or doing anything else) to get off the lazy couch and actually do some research to find out if your claim has any basis in reality. Before the Post releases another study that shows you to be a fool.

  19. invitro says:

    Here’s my bit of research. From another wikipedia article: ‘A survey published by Sports Illustrated in 2002 reported that “neither Native Americans in general nor a cross section of U.S. sports fans” found Indian-related team names and mascots offensive.’ The source of the survey is: S.L. Price & Andrea Woo, “The Indian Wars,” Sports Illustrated, March 4, 2002, pp 66-71.

    I also read that Jerry Howarth won’t say “Braves” either.

  20. mahoffmansts says:

    “We try not to do politics here”? Really??? You do it all the time. It’s why the NFL’s ratings are down and it causes me to want to stop reading this column, as good a writer as you are otherwise.

    • Karyn says:

      Wait, why are the ratings down for the NFL? And what does Joe have to do with it?

      • MikeN says:

        They are down quite a bit so far this year. Some are blaming it on the NFL’s politicking, supporting Colin Kaepernick while not letting the Cowboys show respect to the cops who were shot. Other possibilities are that the games are not as good as last year, although Packers Giants is a marquee matchup, and the election debates.

  21. St Paul says:

    1. It is historically clear that in 1914 the U.S. government was trying to eliminate all Native American culture (not considered citizens and forced boarding schools being the main examples) after a centuries long genocide. Extinction/Expulsuion/Assimilation was the goal. On a side note, naming your team “Indians” in 1914 is a bit like the extinct California grizzly being the state symbol of California. I hope the state never “honors” me!

    2. It is clear that a significant amount of people are offended by these team names.

    3. There is a simple solution: change the name to something creative and non-offensive (there are hundreds of possibilities!).

    4. The main problem: MONEY. The Washington football team estimated it would cost $20 million to change their name.

    5. I like Joe’s writing, but this topic needs more thorough investigation.

    • invitro says:

      “Extinction/Expulsuion/Assimilation was the goal.” — Assimilation, sure, that’s the goal of any government. The other two, sorry, I don’t believe you without proof.

      “It is clear that a significant amount of people are offended by these team names.” — I don’t know how you define “significant”, but the proportion of people is probably well under 10%. That’s not nearly enough. If you could demonstrate that the number was over 30%, I’d start taking you seriously.

      • Glenn says:

        “Extinction/Expulsuion/Assimilation was the goal.”

        Sadly, I was reading about this a couple of months ago. Not our proudest moment.

        I’ll try pasting the link; dunno if it’ll work. If it doesn’t, search for “california slaughter” on Here goes…

        • invitro says:

          Thank you for the link. But that article is about the mid-1800’s. Well, here’s a summary from the article: ‘He estimates that between 9,000 and 16,000 Indians, though probably many more, were killed by vigilantes, state militiamen and federal soldiers between 1846 and 1873, in what he calls an “organized destruction” of the state’s largely peaceful indigenous peoples.’

          This is horrible, no doubt, but I was aware of the general gov’t-sponsored war on Indians of that time. What I meant to ask “St Paul” about is his claim that the federal gov’t had extinction and/or expulsion as a goal in 1914. I see that I screwed up and didn’t mention that the year 1914 was the key for me. Anyway, I’m -not- aware of a US federal gov’t war on Indians in 1914.

          Now, 1914 was Woodrow Wilson’s time, and he was I suppose the premier presidential espouser of the Progressive movement. I wouldn’t be -totally- surprised if Wilson favored expelling Indians “for their own good”, as that sentiment fits in with Progressive politics. Hey, here’s a random quote: ‘Progressivism ended with World War I when the horrors of war exposed people’s cruelty and many Americans associated President Woodrow Wilson’s use of progressive language (“the war to make the world safe for democracy”) with the war.’

          • invitro says:

            Well, shoot. The contrarian in me wants to say that the description of the Indians in CA as “largely peaceful” doesn’t completely exclude the rationality of a hostile gov’t response. Not genocide, of course. But “largely peaceful” implies “somewhat warlike”. (It also happens to be the preferred description by the proggy media of the current era’s race riots/protests.)

          • Glenn says:

            @invitro: good call re: the dates. I managed to totally ignore that part of the original claim — my bad.

          • Karyn says:

            In 1914, the BIA head was Cato Sells, who banned books on the reservations and wanted to sell off lands that he believed to be ‘lying idle’. He also tried to stop a Sun Dance being performed by the Utes, for some reason.

            Kids were still being sent to boarding schools, cut off from their heritage and culture. Native Americans weren’t actually US citizens, and couldn’t vote in most states.

            In 1914, things were definitely better for Native Americans than fifty years prior, but it wasn’t all milk and daisies, either.

          • invitro says:

            Thanks, Karyn. Yep, doesn’t sound like milk & daisies, but doesn’t sound like “extinction and/or expulsion” either.

    • MikeN says:

      >change the name to something creative and non-offensive

      There will always be people to declare that something said is offensive. It is about the power over other people to get them to apologize and say what you want them to say.

      • invitro says:

        Exactly. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more people offended by “Yankees” than by “Indians”. And if this number is a tiny minority, and I believe it is, their offense should be ignored.

  22. Simon White says:

    The thing you have to remember is that the Cleveland team’s nickname does them absolutely no good. It doesn’t sell, people everywhere don’t like it, and they are a large part of why baseball is mostly watched only by men who are almost 60. Soon the TV contracts will change and there will be no money and baseball will look like the music industry today, shrinking to a fraction of its size in billions of dollars. And even though everybody knows this is happening, the Cleveland team honors its racist traditions before everything else. They are not hanging on to ”Giants“ or ”Dodgers.” They are hanging on to Amos and Andy. It is very telling.

    Change the name to “Cleveland Independents“ and call them the “Indies” and you can keep the uniforms and you have something that honors CLEVELAND. But they are too attached to their racism to sell millions of shirts and hats across the country like the Giants and Dodgers do. It would BENEFIT the Cleveland team and MLB to give up their racism but they refuse to.

    Toronto is a very multicultural city, located in a multicultural country where Native Americans are equal citizens to everyone else today, in spite of racist history. In Toronto, 3 million of the 4 million people who live there were not born in Canada. The Blue Jays team is also very multicultural. The Millenial generation in the US is also very multicultural. If you want to understand why baseball is dying, recognize that you are showing a blackface movie to an audience that are either people of color, or who all have a friend or family member who is a person of color. And you are telling them: let’s celebrate the tradition of racist blackface together! In fact, pay us to celebrate the racist tradition.

    Keep in mind also, it is against the law to use a racist slur in Canada. If you call someone “Indian“ who is not in fact from the country of India, that is a crime. You can’t call people “faget” or “nigger” either. The reason is: those are all THREATS OF VIOLENCE. They are not loving nicknames or jokes or self-identifying labels. They are threats of violence. The reason White Americans don’t understand that is because you take it for granted that you can commit racist violence with impunity.

    So White Anericans are asking Tom Cheek to join in with their racist tradition even though he is a muticultural Canadian. And Rob Manfred wants to grow baseball internationally? Ha ha ha no chance without major changes.

    If you are reading this and you are a White American, recognize that you were brought up in a country founded by racists, where most of the laws were written by racists, where people who don’t pass for white can literally be shot dead in the street for no reason, and recognize that your racism is TRANSPARENT to everyone else. 100% transparent. You make terrible excuses like “the Cleveland team is named to *honor* Native Americans. We all see it. You are not fooling anybody. Ask yourself why you are defending racism in that context. You have to choose: either join full-on White Power or stop identifying as White. The “White moderate“ that MLK had such disdain for is done. You will have to choose sides soon: multiculturalism (where you start being proud of your Scottish ancestors and your multicultural neighbors, not your family’s racist history) or White Power. There is no middle way you can navigate anymore by benefiting from racism but absolving yourself as non-racist simultaneously, like the management of Cleveland baseball team and MLB. We see you transparently.

    Although I was born in Europe (live in the US now) I have family who are Native American. That is a different culture than the antique racism that MLB pushes on us. It is not possible for me to pretend that baseball’s racism is OK.

    I appreciate that Joe Posnanski wants the name changed, but I think even he is not aware of just how awful this situation is. The history is not interesting. This article could be about innocent people being shot in the street with impunity by itinerant racists, and I don’t actually care that there is a long history in the US of innocent people being shot in the street with impunity by itinerant racists. I JUST WANT IT TO STOP. I will not participate in it.

    Rob Manfred owns this now. He should have fixed this on day one, but now he is just another in a long line of racist baseball commissioners. He is presiding over the end of baseball, and he knows it, he admits it, and yet, fixes nothing. I’m a Jays fan and I won’t watch the ALCS because it is a celebration of racism right now. How are you supposed to stop baseball from dying like that? How are you going to bring new people in and get them to voluntarily pay once they stop accidentally paying through their cable bill?

    And as for tradition in baseball, the Expos were the only French-language team, one of two international teams, but when there was money to be made, boom they are the Nats of Washington DC. Instant change, no controversy, it apparently is super easy to change a team’ livery and even city. So I call BS on all the baseball racists. You are transparent. MLB is racist at its core and it is a traditional value of baseball to celebrate racist genocide. Own it. We see you.

    While you were celebrating Jackie Robinson Day in the Cleveland park, it shows you have not read the writings of Jackie Robinson. While you were complaining that Steroid Era players should not go to the hall, you showed that you think Steroid use is worse than barring all non-White players for the first half of the 20th century, because nobody says “kick Babe Ruth out of the hall because he played in the Segregated Era.”

    To the commenters here who are defending celebrations of racist genocide: I feel sorry for you, going through your life with a blindfold on, missing the beauty of the world. The only saving grace is you matter less and less and less and your daughter will have a multicultural marriage and then you will die and you won’t ever have mattered.

    • Glenn says:

      As if one needed proof of my moronity…what race is “faget” (presumably similar to “faggot”)? And where in the world is the threat of violence in that term?? Does that apply to “poopy-pants” as well?? Are all 5-year-olds about to be locked up??

      I swear I’m not trying to provoke anything there; I just honestly do not understand. (The above is actually academic as well; I have never in my life called anyone such a name. Well, maybe “poopy-pants”, but I don’t remember back that far.)

      And I shouldn’t be surprised that 75% of people in Toronto were not born in Canada. I LOVE Toronto; what a great, great city. Only visited for a week, several years ago, but definitely left a positive, lasting impression.

      • invitro says:

        “The above is actually academic as well” — Well, he’s probably in school. Most likely second grade.

      • MikeN says:

        These so-called Human Rights Commissions are all about harassing people and threatening them with prison for saying things unfavorable to the commissioners.
        Mark Steyn managed to get the entire apparatus thrown out in Canada when they tried to sue him and his newspaper for their writing about Muslims.

        How is saying racial slurs a violent act?
        How is saying ‘Faggot'(which also means stick and appears in The Lord of the Rings) a violent act?

    • invitro says:

      “It doesn’t sell,” — it doesn’t?

      “and they are a large part of why baseball is mostly watched only by men who are almost 60.” — the Indians’ name has been the reason for this ALL THIS TIME?! Why oh why didn’t you tell us sooner! I bet you know why the Indians’ name is responsible for the NFL’s declining ratings, too!

    • Unvenfurth says:


  23. mrh says:

    What if the Milwaukee Braves* had changed their name to the Crackers when moving to Atlanta? Why keep a name tied to Boston when a name associated with (very successful) baseball in Atlanta was available?

    *I think “Braves” has more negative connotations historically than “Indians” but haven’t researched that claim.

  24. RB says:

    Racist?? The only racism is your own. People give their teams names that they respect. There’s nothing racist or denigrating about the word “Indian”. And to the commenter mrh, “Braves” is even less negative. Do the Nordic people get their panties in a twist about the Vikings? People crying racist here are just bullies in disguise. They’re looking for ways to push other people around, and for some, this is it.

    • mrh says:

      Well, now you made me actually do a little* research. Here is one man’s opinion on the use of “brave:”

      No doubt many would disagree. Probably all those Nordic people who wear panties. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

      *One google search “connotations of braves”, first hit that was not an obvious dictionary definition of the the word “brave.”

  25. KHAZAD says:

    I am related through the marriage of a close relative to a Native American who is an important member of a prominent tribe. Spending alot of time in their household, I have had many good times with many others. I would wager I have had this exact conversation with more Native Americans, of more different tribal origins, than most of you have ever actually seen.

    I have never found anyone who had a problem with the Indians nickname. There is a percentage that have a problem with the Redskins, but ironically, it is a MUCH lower percentage than among my white friends. Whether that is the current PC mentality or white guilt, or some combination, I don’t know.

    The majority of them really hate Chief Wahoo, though.

  26. Knuckles says:

    I would suggest announcers, broadcasters, athlete’s that refuse to say team names because it’s hurtful to them should boycot. If you are that concerned about it stop making money off it and working in what you seem to think is such a racist insensitive industry. Most adults can handle a team being called the Indians.

  27. jaaaaaaaat says:

    worth noting that in Canada, “Indians” is either the name for people from India, or it is a racist term for “native americans”. In Canada, they are known as “first nations”.

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