Whose Harm? Whose Foul? The Confusing War Against Native Indian Sports Nicknames
In the American League Championship Series just concluded, it was the nickname that dared not speak its name. At least, not among some prominent members of the media.
Several notable sports announcers— including Toronto Blue Jays radio play-by-play man Jerry Howarth—- refused to use the team nickname of the Cleveland Indians as they covered the ALCS. According to figures such as Howarth and Bob Costas of NBC, the team name demeans native Americans. By extension, so do nicknames such as the Braves (Atlanta, MLB), Blackhawks (Chicago, NHL) and Redskins (Washington, NFL).
Those of a tendentious nature also insist the use of Indian symbols on helmets or jerseys is a case of cultural appropriation. Activists have gone so far as to have copyright protections for the Redskins name lifted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. While Colin Kaepernick has yet to take a knee in support of this effort, it’s only a matter of time.
It would seem from reading media accounts that a vast movement of native Americans and Canadians is underway. Yet, what’s unique about this struggle is the almost total indifference for these virtuous pearl clutchers from the people most affected by the alleged abuse. Polling consistently demonstrates that, as tempests go, this one is predominantly hot air.
A 2004 poll showed that 90 percent of those native Americans polled did not object to the Redskins nickname. A 2016 Washington Post poll which duplicated the poll question asked in 2004, produced an identical result.
The general public is not gripped by the Redskins debate either. As journalist George Will reports, “A 2013 AP-GfK poll showed that 79 percent of Americans of all ethnicities opposed changing it, and just 18 percent of ‘nonwhite football fans’ favored changing it.” National public opinion polls finds that a majority of the general public support the team's continued use of the name, ranging from 60 to 83 percent in recent years.
Those like Howarth who object to the nicknames are no doubt sincere about their feelings, but as crusades go this one is several demonstrators shy of the Selma march of 1964. (Which never stops progressives seeking to educate the “deplorables” in American culture.) Sure enough, Canadian native activist Douglas Cardinal thought it was time to get his name in the media again. (http://www.tsn.ca/advocate-seeks-ban-on-indians-logo-name-1.586557) But his belated complaint was briskly shut down by a judge.
To be sure, there is a range of native symbols caught up in this debate. The Indians name, allegedly to honor native player Louis Soxalexis who played for Cleveland in the first decade of the twentieth century, might be fairly benign. The Cleveland logo, Chief Wahoo, is offensive caricature on just about every level.
The Blackhawks name and logo seem to be respectful of the culture. The name was originally to honour not the native tribe itself but a branch of the U.S. military who used the nickname during WW I. In fact, natives often wear the Blackhawks logo themselves as cultural symbols. Ditto for the Braves’ name— although the fans’ war chant owes more to Hollywood than native culture.
Because the Redskins play in the political fever swamp of Washington D.C. they have naturally received the most attention from activists and from media slavishly following the latest glittering progressive/ left object. Which allows people such as native activist Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo, to proclaim, without facts, that “the majority of Native American people who have spoken out on this” want the name Redskins banned. And not get laughed into the Potomac.
Other zealots prefer a more hands-on approach to convincing natives how badly they’re served by these nicknames (http://www.chicksontheright.com/native-american-man-assaulted-white-house-official-wearing-redskins-shirt/). Folks such as Howarth and Costas are free to use their platforms to make their feelings known. Which is their right. But it doesn’t mean that they’re aided by the facts.
As happened when Kaepernick jumped on fallacious Black Lives Matter propaganda saying that blacks were being disproportionately targeted by police, the media have leapt in feet first to promote the right to his First Amendment rights while ignoring his data. (https://goo.gl/s7OGxn) BTW: The high school football team at Miss Blackhorse’s reservation New Mexico? The Redskins.
All of which begs the question: If so many of those affected by this supposed insult don’t see it as an insult… then who is the progressive culture industry doing it for? I’ll take your answer off-air.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is host of The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com.
His career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).