Now is the time to abandon racist sports nicknames

Mason Arneson; Hopkins, MN—

The Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins, two major sports teams whose franchise names are slurs for Native Americans, announced in the past week that they would review and possibly swap their team names for new, less culturally offensive alternatives.

The debate has been raging for decades now, and with the wave of support for social justice and equality throughout the world, it seems fitting to take racial slurs as team nicknames off life support. Over the last month or so, corporations in the business realm such as Quaker Oats and Mars Inc. have announced their intentions to move away from using racially stereotypical depictions of Black people with Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, respectively. Now it is time for professional sports franchises to move away from using racial slurs aimed at Native Americans for nicknames.

Changing the names now would be a huge step forward for both organizations, as the team names have been outdated for decades and have no real redeeming value (unless you ask President Trump, who has stuck to his politically incorrect reasoning to argue against the name change). The time to change the name was years ago, but we’ll take it now all the same.

The Indians have made strides to sanitize their public image. On Jan. 29, 2018, Indians owner Paul Dolan, alongside the MLB commissioner, announced that Chief Wahoo, the racistly caricatured Native American logo used by the Indians since the 1940s, would cease to exist on uniforms after the 2018 season.

Indians team social media “preemptively” (not really preemptively, but at least they didn’t wait for Progressive Insurance, the company that holds their stadium’s naming rights, to publicly state it) announced July 3 that they would engage in conversations that should have happened years ago to determine how to move forward with the Indians moniker.

While the Indians have taken far longer than they should have to realize that their name is offensive to people’s cultural heritage, at least, at the bare minimum, they have not had the drama that the Washington Redskins have had.

The powers that be within Washington’s premier football organization finally made the decision to crumple up the Redskins moniker and huck it across the room into the wastebasket of outdated, racist terminology. But Redskins owner Dan Snyder, the man who said that the franchise’s nickname would “NEVER” (in all caps at Snyder’s request) change, took his sweet time loading up his trash can toss and only threw away the Redskins name at the request of others.

Changing the Redskins name to anything else is no longer about doing the morally good thing. The old Wu-Tang Clan saying of “Cash rules everything around me” is apt for Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s predicament.

Long story short, Dan Snyder needs to change his team’s nickname to prevent drawing ire from one of the club’s biggest sponsors (FedEx), losing that sweet merchandise money from Nike and watching the team’s minority stake owners sell 40% of the team. Changing the name is a prevention measure as opposed to an act of goodwill. 

But much like everything in 2020, we’ll take what we can get. And recently, the consequences of keeping the Redskins name proved to be too much for Dan Snyder and his leadership team.

Pressures from above and below over the last month and a half have forced the Washington organization’s hand, as on July 13, it was announced that a name and logo overhaul would be taking place in the nation’s capital. No specifics were announced about what the new name and look would entail, as the team facelift results will be revealed at a later date.

While progress has been made towards culturally appropriate nicknames, both Cleveland and Washington have received backlash for reinventing their image after holding their nicknames for generations.

The irony is the concept of changing the racist names of these two franchises has been more contentious than changing a non-racist team name. I don’t recall much public outrage when the New Orleans Hornets made the decision to rebrand as the Pelicans in 2013. Even the Washington Wizards, who cater to the same geographic market as the Redskins, changed their name from the Washington Bullets relatively easily.

There are no logical reasons that the President or his legion of supporters could come up with as to why either the Indians or Redskins should continue under their current nicknames.

“They’re erasing history!” History does not lie within the name of a team. The internal infrastructure and the history of the team will remain the same, just with a rebranding effort and some positive PR coverage in the history books.

“Sports are becoming too politically correct!” Shifting a team’s nickname away from a racial slur should not be an issue of politics. It should be an issue of basic human decency.

“The name honors Native Americans!” There are teams that honor Native American heritage in a positive way without invoking racial slurs. Some major Division I schools, such as the Florida State Seminoles, Central Michigan Chippewas and Utah Utes, have all gained approval from the tribes that serve as their mascots.

Also, it shouldn’t be hard for the culturally rich metropolises of Cleveland and Washington D.C. to come up with nicknames that connect to the heritage or history of their towns. 

The District of Columbia is the political hub of America, so there should be myriad names that could be derived from political lingo or patriotic themes. But my personal favorite nickname would be the Redtails, which would be a nod to the Tuskegee Airmen, who were the first Black aviators in the US military during World War II.

Cleveland could take some inspiration from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is located just a couple miles away from Progressive Field, or reuse the Cleveland Spiders nickname, which was the name of Cleveland’s MLB franchise in the late 19th century.

Social movement is sweeping across the world as a result of the police murderings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who are two of the countless victims of police brutality and racial violence in America. These murders have caused many people to reconsider the status quo that we as a society have held onto for generations. While changing two racist sports nicknames is not going to solve all of the deep and complex issues concerning political correctness, cultural appropriation and racism, it’s a step in the right direction.

Feature photo is labeled for reuse.

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