Connie Schultz: Thank you, Washington Redskins
By Connie Schultz
Increasingly in my travels, a person will discover I’m from Cleveland and want to talk about Chief Wahoo.
Thank you, Washington Redskins, for this sign of progress.
Typically, the person I’ve just met wants either to know why the Cleveland Indians still have that racist logo or assurances that the team isn’t getting rid of it.
This is not a partisan issue, as I’ve learned in heated conversations with acquaintances, friends and even family members. In my experience, some of the most ardent advocates for that big-nosed, red-faced caricature of no Indian who has ever existed are the same people who want socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders to run for president. I suspect that liberal guilt drives their aggression, but I have found pointing that out to be a reckless way to direct debate.
For the record, Wahoo is banned in our house, and I wish the Cleveland Indians would dump their logo and their name.
One of my best friends, a liberal to the bone, read that just now and shook her head at my stupidity. This is how it goes.
Last week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office stripped the NFL’s Washington Redskins of their trademark and called the team name a “racial slur.” This week, a Native American group in Cleveland has announced plans to file a $9 billion lawsuit against the Indians and their mascot.
The damages are based “on a hundred years of disparity, racism, exploitation and profiteering,” Robert Roche, a Chiricahua Apache, told WEWS-TV. “It’s been offensive since day one. We are not mascots. My children are not mascots. We are people.”
Cleveland fans exploded on social media. It gets ugly fast there. On my Facebook page, which is public, I had to weed out dozens of racist comments making a rare appearance on my wall. There were also the usual posts lamenting the future of redskin potatoes, because pink tubers are people, too.
Please, people. Work on the clever.
So often, this is a discussion between extremes. On one side are people who think that every Wahoo fan is a racist; on the other are those who see every opponent as a castrated victim of political correctness.
Somewhere between those accusations is a place for dialogue, where people listen at least as much as they talk.
In an interview with Bill Moyers, writer Sherman Alexie, who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, offered his perspective:
“You can still have the Washington Redskins. You can still have the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians, which is by far the worst. And if you look at Chief Wahoo on their hats and put Sambo next to him, it’s the same thing. And, you know, you could never have Sambo anymore.”
He continued: “At least half the country thinks the mascot issue is insignificant. But I think it’s indicative of the ways in which Indians have no cultural power. We’re still placed in the past. So we’re either in the past or we’re only viewed through casinos. … I know a lot more about being white than you know about being Indian.”
For a different perspective, allow me to introduce you to Josh Painting, a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan who grew up in Ohio and now lives in Boston, where he bravely makes no secret of his loyalty.
With his permission, I am sharing part of his Facebook post:
“I am not trying to be insensitive to Native Americans or any group at all. I have heard anti-Indian mascot groups say that it wrongfully depicts the history and lore of these tribes. How? Do we really think our children learn history from sports teams?
“I went to many Indians games in my life. Did I ever think an Indian was really like the drunk, overweight white guy dressed with a headdress and bad face paint? No. I educated myself. My parents educated me. My teachers educated me. … As a lifelong Indians fan I learned the following things watching my team: We haven’t won a World Series since 1948. We have been to three World Series since then: 1954, 1995, 1997. We were REALLY bad for a long time. I hate the Yankees and the Red Sox. Through all of that, I did not learn a single thing about Native Americans from the actual team. I learned my Native American history from books, the library, talking to actual Native Americans.
“What our country did to Native Americans is tragic. As tragic as slavery. As tragic as genocide. Truly terrible things that should be taught to our children, not ignored like it is in most schools. But that has nothing to do with Cleveland having a team (named the) Indians. I can be open to Chief (Wahoo’s) being changed. I don’t like it, but I can be open to it. … However, I cannot be open about the Indians having to change their name. Redskins is an insulting word to many so it is understandable that people want it changed. Indians, Chiefs, Blackhawks. Those are not insulting words. I am proud to be an Indians fan.”
This is an example of two men who couldn’t be more different pointing us in the same direction. It’s a place where tempers lie low and reflection reigns.
I say we join them. We start there.