Hot Button: Native American Nicknames

OK, so it’s time to reveal the results of the first Hot button question survey. Thank you to the 3,000 or so people who took the time to answer the questions. The first question was not really a question -- I didn’t know how to put an opening page that simply explained the survey, so I gave people three boxes to check. In case you are curious:

91.7% of you checked: Got it.

1.1% of you checked: Totally confused.

10.5% of you checked: Where do I get the prizes?

That’s more than 100%. I think some people checked two boxes. OK, here we go: * * *

Question 1. Do you think the Washington Redskins should change their name?

Strongly yes, The name is offensive and awful and should be changed as soon as possible: 27.1%

Yes. the name offends some and that is a good enough reason to change it: 37.2%

Neutral: 14%

No. The name has sports history and it’s not a serious enough issue to demand change: 14.8%

Strongly no. The name isn’t offensive and the efforts to change it are just PC run wild: 6.9%

Broken down:

Yes: 64.3% No: 21.7% Neutral: 14%

* * *

Question 7: Do you think the Cleveland Indians should get rid of mascot Chief Wahoo?

Absolutely yes. It’s an embarrassment that such a racist figure sill represents an MLB team: 32.9%

Yes. Mascots are supposed to be fun and should not offend people: 31%

Neutral: 16.1%

No. Wahoo is fun and I just don’t think this is much of an issue: 13.6%

Absolutely no. Wahoo rules and people just need to stop taking it so seriously: 6.4%

Broken down:

Yes: 63.9% No: 20% Neutral: 16.1%

* * *

I put these two questions in for only one reason -- I was curious to see if readers have a different or stronger feelings about a disputed Native American NICKNAME and a disputed Native American MASCOT. I had an opinion about that coming in. But before getting into that, I will say that since I put up the poll Bob Costas offered a passionate argument that the Washington nickname is offensive and should be changed and conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote a column where he too believes the nickname should be changed. So the Washington name issue seems to be getting hotter again.

Krauthammer’s column is fascinating because it pointedly makes the politically correct argument (“I wouldn’t want to use a word that defines a people -- living or dead, offended or not -- in a most demeaning way,” he writes about the word “gyp” and, I can only assume also believes about Redskins) while also mocking people who make the politically correct argument (“You would not stop because of the language police. Not because you might incur a Bob Costas harangue. Not because the President wags a finger”). There seemed a lot of conflict in that column.

My feeling on this is that the arguments for or against are more or less spent, everybody’s just repeating themselves, people have staked their position and nobody is likely at this point to be swayed. I just call them the Washington Hogs. Better nickname. Steeped in history. I’d love to see the uniforms.

What interested me more was the Redskins v. Wahoo question. See, for me, there is a distinction … and I will readily admit it could be a personal distinction. I don’t really care about the Washington Hogs. They are not my team. I have no more (or less) interest in them than I do the Seattle Seahawks or Houston Texans. And so while I may have my opinion about the nickname itself, I don’t have any skin in the game -- pun intended and groaned upon. I don’t have any investment in the team, no personal connection to the name, no emotions tied whatsoever. In other words, it’s easy for me to say: Change the name. What do I care?

But Wahoo? That’s different. I have a deep and weighty connection to Wahoo. I grew up with Wahoo. I wore hats with Wahoo. I have jerseys with Wahoo. I hung pennants on my wall with Wahoo. When I was a kid there was a giant Chief Wahoo batting on top of Municipal Stadium. I loved that sign with all my heart, all my soul, because seeing it meant, nine out of ten times, that I was going to see the Indians play baseball. I think of that sign the way I think of the John Cougar song, “Ain’t Even Done With The Night.” I don’t suppose that’s a very good song, but I love it anyway because it reminds me of one my favorite days as a kid. In memory, I never thought once of Wahoo as a racist caricature, never thought once about how a Native American might view it. For me: Wahoo just equaled baseball. So on this, I think my opinion is somewhat valid because I do have something at stake here.

And here’s what I think: I honestly cannot believe the team has not gotten rid of Wahoo. I understand that changing nicknames is tricky. That’s a very public thing. Washington -- and for that matter Cleveland, Atlanta and others -- could not change their name without it being a huge deal. It would be the talk on the radio, on television, in newspapers, on the Internet, there would be ferocious opinions about it, massive arguments about it. Could you just see the debate shows? Are we giving into the PC culture? Have we all become too sensitive? What does it tell you that in an America rife with problems we are changing sports nicknames? It would be a tempest, everybody knows it, and I’m sure in part this is why so many are reluctant to wade in.

But Wahoo? The team could quietly get rid of Wahoo at any time with relatively little fuss. Yes, a few observant people like Craig Calcaterra might notice and say, “Hey they are phasing out Chief Wahoo,” and there might be a little bit of a rumble, but so what? The team could say, “Nah, it’s still a part of the team, we’re just trying some new things,” and just keep making it less and less a part of the team. It’s just a logo*.

*I referred to Wahoo as a “mascot” in the question -- technically that’s not right. it’s really a logo. Technically, THIS unspecified thing is the Indians mascot.

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Point is: Logos change all the time. I mean ALL THE TIME. I would argue that if you take out the politics, the Indians would have gotten rid of Wahoo years ago. Forget the racist question, they would have gotten rid of it because its not that good a logo, because new logos sell uniforms, and because -- let’s be honest -- Wahoo has not exactly been super successful. The Indians have not won a World Series since 1948. They could use a change.

When I say logos change all the time, I mean it. We just don’t think about it. The Kansas City Chiefs logo used to be this embarrassing thing:

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And now it’s this:

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As long as we are talking about questionable logos, the Philadelphia Warriors logo was this for a while:

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The Atlanta Braves logo was this:

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But the point here is -- forget about whether a logo is offensive. Logos change because times change. They change because the old gets stale. They change so the team can sell more merchandise or change its image or even change its entire personality. The New England Patriots logo used to be this guy:

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And now it’s this thing:

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The Denver Broncos logo used to be this:

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And now it’s this orange-eyed and very angry bronco:

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These kinds of changes happen all the time. Makeovers. Sometimes they don’t make sense to the rest of us. The Milwaukee Brewers had this AWESOME logo … and (regrettably) changed it.

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But change happens. And happens. And happens. The Celtics are as iconic a franchise as we have in America, and their logo is one of America’s most famous, and when they were dominant in the 1950s and 1960s it was this:

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The Miami Dolphins just changed their logo to make the Dolphin angrier (and got rid of the Dolphin with the “M” on his helmet, which was always one my favorite uniform quirks). Tampa Bay changed name from Devil Rays to Rays and changed logos and went from a laughingstock to one of baseball best teams (perhaps its coincidental). In college it happens even more often -- I love that Kansas State changed from this:

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To this:

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Point is, Cleveland could use a new logo for countless reasons. There’s an irony here -- in the 1970s, Wahoo really wasn’t a bit part of the Cleveland Indians. The giant Wahoo in front of the stadium was there, as mentioned, but the hats did not feature Chief Wahoo. The Indians went through a dreadful run of uniforms including the famous red monstrosities of the mid-1970s, and Wahoo did not feature prominently on any of them. It was in the 1980s that there was a Wahoo revival. By then the team KNEW that some groups found Wahoo offensive. They did it anyway. Wahoo was prominently feature on the cover of SI in the infamous “Believe It! Cleveland is the best team in the American League” fiasco of 1987. The Indians proudly finished with the worst record in the American League instead. They could have dumped Wahoo right then and there, not for political reasons but because it wasn’t exactly bringing them good luck.

It’s a little bit harder now because Wahoo has become entrenched. But realistically the team still could change logos without creating the sort of scene that changing Washington’s name (or Cleveland’s name) would create. So, I guess, I find that to be a different issue. I find Wahoo to be MORE offensive than Redskins because it would be easier to change.

But, as it turns out (he says 1,500 words into the post) people who took the poll did not feel that way. The numbers run pretty much in line with each other. A few dozen more people checked “neutral” on the mascot question -- they think it’s not as big an issue. And a few dozen feel more strongly that Wahoo is racist/offensive than the Redskins nickname. But more or less, people seem to feel like the two issues are the same. So I guessed wrong on that one.