Recently, the Braves caved to public pressure concerning their Spring Training hats set to feature a "screaming savage." The logo was used periodically from 1967 to 1989, and it briefly resurfaced as a concept for 2013 before being shot down. Seems like an obvious choice (unless you're a fan of barnyard iconography.) There seems to be an unwitting mockery inherent in 30,000 descendants of Manifest Destiny doing the tomahawk chop. Although Atlanta has been one of the best organizations in baseball (and they've been doing it since the American Centennial in 1876,) most Braves fans probably don't even realize their numbness to the parody. This year, there was a chance for the club and the people literally represented by the logo to harmonize their divergent wavelengths. And in this instance, they did.
The Spring Training caps pale in comparison to the mazy duality of the issue in Cleveland.
Baseball has been coursing through Clevelander veins since before their Spiders threw in with the National League in 1889. After joining Ban Johnson's American League in 1901, they began calling themselves the Bronchos (yes, Spellcheck, with an "H.") That didn't last very long. In 1905, the team chose to honor their best player, Napoléon Lajoie, by becoming the "Naps." I guess that was easier than constantly trying to explain how to pronounce the "Lajoies" (It's Pronounced "Lajaway.") This change came while Lajoie was still on the team. Can you imagine that now? Maybe Dan Snyder should pony up some of that Johnny Rockets money for the trademark on the "Washington RGIIIs."
There is no definitive evidence that the club named themselves the "Indians" in commendation. However, the "Naps" moniker lends itself to the notion that the current nickname is, in fact, an ode to former Cleveland Spider and Penobscot Indian Louis Francis Sockalexis. In that regard, the name possibly has/had some genuine sincerity. Whatever the origin, it has since been dragged through the soily pigpen history of American prejudice. Before the Civil Rights movement, the collective awareness of such myopia had not been shepherded to the forefront of our minds. Cultural sensitivity was about as common then as Polio is now.
Sockalexis was noticeably athletic from an early age. He was supposed to have thrown a baseball across the Penobscot River (600 feet) on the Maine reservation where he was born. His legend continued to expand in college at Holy Cross and Notre Dame. He swiped 6 bags in one game, pitched three no hitters, and launched a ball 414 feet (measured by two Harvard professors) on the fly from the outfield. Baseball icon John McGraw saw him as the greatest natural talent he had encountered in the game. Sounds pretty worthy of tribute.
Obviously, the organization has remained steadfast under the umbrella of the Second Amendment, in spite of protests and petitions by the people that have the most personal experience with the subject. You know, the people who have been consistently tyrannized since the conquistadors. The Penobscot tribe are one of many (if not, all) Native American groups that oppose these insignia.
There have been many examples of colleges (Stanford, Marquette, Syracuse, St. John's, etc.) altering or completely reconstructing their public image at the behest of Native American organizations across the United States. High schools from coast to coast have also abandoned their various associations with these symbols. Who is setting the example here?
The team may be operating under the coy assumption that Chief Wahoo is acceptable because they can claim the "Indians" name was originally meant as an homage. They may also be attempting to avoid the big-ticket overhaul that a complete rebranding would command. We're talking tens of millions in renovations. Cleveland started using Chief Wahoo's forerunners in 1928 and adopted their current logo (pictured below) in 1951.
Sockalexis may only have seen the flattery in the logo (and team name) if he were alive to see it, but it may not have even been his place to speak for the whole of the Penobscot community (let alone the place of team owner and exemplary caucasian Larry Dolan.) The tribe filed a petition contesting any use of Chief Wahoo in 2000. Since buying the team in 1999, Dolan has been extremely hesitant to speak on the topic publicly.
Say what you will about other organizations, but at least other Big League PR Departments don't seem to be playing keep-away with the cultural dignity of an entire heritage. To Native Americans, the shadow of Chief Wahoo may look like a coarse foam novelty giving the finger to the sweeping megacosm of their people's being.
The Cleveland Institute of Art commissioned Native American artist Edgar Heap of Birds to design a billboard of protestation in 1996 (pictured below.) Ethnicities tend to take issue with stereotypes, even if they could be argued as positive generalization. Though, that is not the case in Ohio.
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The glaring paradox? This is the same organization that broke the color barrier in the American League in 1947 by signing Larry Doby from of the Negro Leagues' Newark Eagles. Then owner and team president, Bill Veeck insisted on paying the Eagles for Doby's services, which was outside the norm of the times.
They ended DiMaggio's streak at 56.
They hired Frank Robinson as the first black manager in Major League history.
They even had a good enough sense of humor to lend their brand to slapstick in the Major League movies.
This doesn't sound like the same group that would turn a blind eye to 20 years of protest at the Opening Day gates of Progressive Field (It is actually called "progressive" with a giant ludicrous Indian leering down at its fans...in 2013!) The Committee of 500 Years of Dignity & Resistance and the Cleveland American Indian Movement have been fruitlessly picketing Chief Wahoo for 2 decades, and that cartoonish apartheid is still stitched into Cleveland caps like a casual badge of apathy.
-Susan Dominguez, The Oberlin Review