After decades of fighting to get offensive mascots, nicknames, and logos changed, activists are now exulting as the Washington Redskins have yielded to the mob of social justice crusaders and their corporate hostages. Yet this is not a celebration of exorcising racism, but rather of controlling speech and the public consciousness. Americans ought to learn soon that once some imagery is determined to be too hurtful to sell, their own taste comes next.
This week Anthony Brian Logan released a video discussing his view that the Washington Redskins are not a racist and offensive trademark, and he validly pointed out that there is plenty of fans from all different backgrounds, including American Indians, are fans of the team. As a website contributor of his, this is one of the areas where I disagree. The use of slurs like Redskins as well as caricatures like Chief Knock-a-homa of the Atlanta Braves and Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians, is exactly the type that was used commonly in the early 20th century when overt racism was commercially acceptable. George Marshall, the founder of the Redskins when they were still located in Boston, and the person who moved them to DC, was a virulent segregationist and refused to have a black player on his team until compelled to in 1962 by Interior Secretary Stewart Udall. I think however that ultimately even those supporting removing the logos have little to cheer today. In a sense, whether the name is racist or not, this change is a meaningless attempt to appease a new censorious social climate. But first, my own history with this topic.
Opening Day with the protesters
In the early 2010s I attended three consecutive protests at Cleveland’s Progressive Field on Opening Day against the Chief Wahoo logo and the Cleveland Indians nickname. I wasn’t necessarily active in the protest, but I would chat with those that were, including local American Indian Movement leaders Robert Roche and Sundance. They were always very civil and patient with the passersby, whether they were media or just regular people. While radical in many of their beliefs, they had a tasteful demeanour about them, and it was obvious that they knew that being too hotheaded would simply hurt their already unpopular cause.
One has to remember that the teams that are discussed here figure prominently in the culture that we grew up in here in Ohio. Older fans here recall the 1948 World Series title of Bob Feller, or the 1970s Indians teams managed by Frank Robinson. In the 1990s, baseball in Cleveland was on the climb after decades of poor results. Thanks to the dismal performance of the Cavaliers of that era and the 1995 relocation of the Browns to Baltimore, the Indians were the hottest ticket not just in Cleveland but the entire state, and most people would stay up at night to watch their games or pick up the paper to check the score immediately upon waking up if they had to go to sleep on a school night. Like many of the children of that period I became a fan of the Dallas Cowboys dynasty of Jimmy Johnson and the most hated rivals were the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and of course the Washington Redskins. The symbolism of Cowboys facing off against Redskins, often on Thanksgiving, was obviously a marketing gold mine for the NFL. Like ABL said in his video, the Redskins’ fan-base is massive along the Eastern Shore of the Mid-Atlantic states, especially the black communities of the Virginia Beach area. I once had an encounter at my doctor’s office waiting room with two of them. I in my Cowboys hat and a middle aged black man and his elderly father from North Carolina – both in Redskins gear – talked for a good ten minutes about Robert Griffin III and Tony Romo matching up. There was zero political or social connotation to it.
But talking to Robert Roche and reading some of the material of AIM and other groups, I did come to understand the dispossession that he went through as part of the American Indian Relocation Act of 1956 which encouraged him and others to abandon reservations and move to the cities. These new “urban Indians” often failed to adapt, largely due to the lack of any family or community ties in their new hometowns. Those brief discussions taught me the appalling history of 20th century government policy towards Indians that is less known, and without emotional blackmail or moralizing.
However, as Roche himself stated in 2011 “let me tell you something, Chief Wahoo is an important concern for us. But if you took a long list or our concerns. . . Chief Wahoo is on the bottom of that list”. The issues of poverty, literacy, and health are indeed a major topic that goes unnoticed, and Roche was adamant to talk about them. But in 2018 he was sentenced to four months in prison for embezzling federal funds meant for the AIM center in Cleveland. I would like to believe that there was an innocent explanation for it, but I haven’t hear one yet.
Does racist symbology have any effect?
After graduating from college and seeing the mushrooming of the $BLM movement, I came to understand that the American Indian mascot controversy was being appropriated for a larger purpose. It was very clear that even though the majority of Americans disagreed with Roche and Co., believing the symbols to be perfectly fine, it cut against the morals of a much more powerful sector society: the self-righteous media. In 2013 NBC Sports commentator Bob Costas spoke up about it in the middle of a Washington-Dallas halftime show. This monologue fell flat, as the majority of fans saw no reason why they should listen to Costas moralize about mascots on a broadcast that he was being paid for. If only we had known that this era, that of commentators waxing intellectual and sparse protesters, would be their version of “asking nicely”. Since then, the movement to abandon Indian mascots has evolved into the same venomous cult-like behaviour auditing that we see with regards to fighting newspeak bogeymen like “toxic masculinity”, “Russian collusion”, and “internalized misogyny”. This is one of the reasons that even though I disagree with ABL about the tastefulness of the team symbols, ultimately he is right about the change being wrong.
Back in 2013 when the mascots were debated, one side was of those wanting the symbols scrapped and the other those that only cared about football. In the world we are in now of cancel culture, those that say they only care about football are labelled racists, white supremacists, and heartless capitalists.
Ironically, the decision to change the Washington team trademarks has everything to do with corporate capitalism. FedEx, the team’s chief sponsor and the namesake of its stadium in Landover, MD, threatened to pull out of its partnership unless the change occurred. Another motive for Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder changing the nickname is the threat by DC officials to refuse him the rights to build a new stadium on the site of where RFK Stadium is. For decades Snyder and his organization refused to remove the symbols due to their greed, and now they choose to do it for the same reason. They didn’t become more or less racist, it simply became commercially less acceptable for them to maintain the status quo.
As evidenced by the disagreement over whether the Redskins’ name and logo is racist, symbols have different meanings depending on the audience. But even if one believes that they are racist, what is the solution? If a fan doesn’t like a team such as the Redskins, they can just be a fan of a competitor such as the Bears, Packers, Cowboys, or Broncos. Much of the buzz today is about so-called “systemic racism”, but there is nothing forcing anyone today to watch the Redskins, Braves, or Chiefs. Plenty of fans of all backgrounds are fans of the Redskins, including acquaintances of mine that are Filipino and Canadian indigenous. If the team was so inflammatory in its racism, wouldn’t it have a poisonous reputation among minority groups? The opposite is true, such that in 2011 the Washington Post, long one of the newspapers most critical of the team, published a story specifically about how strongly the team’s fan-base had grown among the black community.
Pride vs. Poverty
Now that the Redskins and other teams will be changing their names, will these problems finally be addressed?
- According to the Indian Health Service American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) have the worst health statistics of any ethnic group in the US. Members of this category are twice as likely to die from homicide, almost five times as likely to die from cirrhosis or liver disease, 1.7 times as likely to commit suicide, and three times as likely to die from diabetes.
- Per the National Violence Against Women Survey: AI/AN women and men report more violent victimization than do women and men of other racial backgrounds.
- Addiction rates for AI/AN citizens are several lengths ahead of any other ethnic group. 28.5% for general illicit drug use (compared to 20.8% for blacks, 17.1% for Hispanics, and 20.2% for whites).
- The AI/AN poverty rate is 24%, eleven points above the national rate and two points higher than the black community.
- AI/AN college achievement and retention rates lag dramatically behind their white counterparts.
- AI/AN homelessness per 10,000 in population is at 66.6, the second highest category after Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders.
These are all elements that come together to form the picture of failure for the federally administered Indian Health System and other state and federal institutions. But the media and the activist base won’t discuss that, because there is no Daniel Snyder type villain to attack. Instead of focusing on actual problems, like real poverty, the #Woke mob is now turning on the Texas Rangers baseball team! Never mind that the Rangers law enforcement agency inducted its first black officer in 1988, and that the baseball team has had countless black and Latino stars such as Juan González and Fergie Jenkins.
Indian Country Today, the largest AI/AN directed media company in the USA, is one of the few outlets that reports on the poor state of American Indian society, but they also prominently focus on the logos. Only 2.9 million Americans identify as AI/AN alone, or 0.9% of the US population, and politically they have no equivalent to the Congressional Black Caucus, American Jewish Congress, or National Council for La Raza. If there are so many people out there in the media or on Twitter, most of them not even football fans, that are willing to yank the chain of the rest of America about team logos, why don’t they do the right thing and actually donate resources to fight even one of the health and economic threats mentioned above? If instead of bitching about the Redskins or the Blackhawks, what would happen if all of these so-called activists pooled together money or demanded of Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk to create an initiative to fight homelessness and drug addiction among native people? It hasn’t happened yet, and it probably never will, because there is no scalp — er, I mean bounty — to claim.