Opinion Column

Racist team names no longer sporting

By Josh Aldrich, Camrose Canadian

Architect Douglas Cardinal conducts a lecture at St. Andrew's Place in Sudbury, ON. on Wednesday, September 4, 2013. The presentation is part of Laurentian University's School of Architecture inaugural lecture series. JOHN LAPPA/THE SUDBURY STAR/QMI AGENCY

Architect Douglas Cardinal conducts a lecture at St. Andrew's Place in Sudbury, ON. on Wednesday, September 4, 2013. The presentation is part of Laurentian University's School of Architecture inaugural lecture series. JOHN LAPPA/THE SUDBURY STAR/QMI AGENCY

An architect may be what brings down the Cleveland Indians and other sports mascots with decidedly racist names and logos. 

 

Douglas Cardinal grew up in Red Deer and made his name as an architect in the 1960s and 70s designing buildings with curved walls, optimized for their interaction with nature and their surroundings. Over the years he has become a staunch advocate for human rights, particularly for Indigenous rights. 

In October, he filed a complaint under the Ontario Human Rights Code, as well as a status update on a similar complaint with the federal human rights commission, over the name and logo of the Major League Baseball team being used in Canada, particularly in Toronto’s Rogers Centre. His argument being that playing games at Rogers Centre constitutes a service and that all three parties — Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians team and Rogers Communications — play a part in providing it. 

The adjudicator is now currently mulling her options asking for more evidence from the two sides before deciding if there is enough to send the complaint on to a tribunal to hear the full case. I hope it goes that far. We should be at a point in society where logos like “Chief Wahoo” and names like the Indians and Redskins should be an embarrassing footnote of a bygone era. 

Chances are the Cleveland Indians will live on past a tribunal, due to jurisdiction. However, they can potentially influence how the team and their trademarks are presented in Canada. 

While I don’t think a favourable ruling for Cardinal would force a name change — when they play in Toronto they could just be referred to as Cleveland and use their block “C” alternate logo — my hope is that it would force them to confront their own history and the ridiculousness of their own arguments in resisting change. Generally, these arguments circle around a team’s tradition and their insistence they are honouring local indigenous people. 

Both arguments are terrible. 

Tradition is the weakest argument. Indians isn’t even the original nickname of the baseball club, they were originally the Grand Rapids Rustlers before relocating to Cleveland where they became the Cleveland Lake Shores in 1900 and then the Bluebirds in 1901. In 1902 they were renamed the Naps for star second baseman Napoleon Lajoie. It wasn’t until Lajoie left the team in 1914 when the name was changed to Indians to honour former Cleveland Spiders player Louis Sockalexis, who was a Native American. There are many names that predate the Indians moniker the team could resort to.  

If they’re going to go with the argument of tradition, they have to take all the warts that come with the name Indians. 

Indians, of course came from the sheer stupidity of Christopher Columbus who assumed he landed in India and decided that all indigenous people where he landed were thusly Indians, failing to realize that there were many different nations on the land he was about to steal, rape and pillage, and none of them were Indian. The name was rarely used with reverence, but most often as a derogatory term as colonizers committed a slow genocide of the indigenous people in North America. 

If it is OK to use that name, what’s stopping us from naming teams other racist names for non-white races? Good taste, common sense and a social conscience. 

This flows into the whole “We’re honouring them” argument. 

How? If you’re going off of honouring Sockalexis, I’m pretty sure he was not red-skinned, buck-toothed, had a feather in his hair or went by the name Chief Wahoo. 

If you want to honour the local indigenous people, how about asking them how they would like to be honoured and then use part of the proceeds from the sale of their image and name to sponsor their social programs and infrastructure. As well, involve them at every level when it comes to the team image and traditions surrounding the ball club. 

The Florida State Seminoles have done just this and is a big reason why they are one of the few remaining NCAA schools with a Native American name for their athletic teams. 

Clubs like the Indians and the Redskins have hurt themselves more than they could have helped themselves by looking progressive and changing the team name and logos before they became socially unacceptable. They’ll still make millions of dollars if or when they make the change, but now it’s because their hand was forced, not because they wanted to be a voice for acceptance and tolerance.  



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