Goodbye to the Indians

The Cleveland Indians baseball club has announced that it will change the team’s name. This is the team’s statement, on Twitter:


Here are my thoughts on portions of the statement:

Since July, we have conducted an extensive process to learn how our team name affected different constituencies and whether it aligned with our organizational values.

The purpose of any such review is obvious. The moment it began, the Indians nickname was doomed.

We believe our organization is at its best when we can unify our community and bring people together–and we believe a new name will allow us to do this more fully.

Well, it’s easier than winning a World Series. I know of no evidence that one sports team name unifies a community more than another. I suppose the Cleveland team will soon be known as the Bears, or some other animal; or perhaps the Crimson, or another color. How exactly will such names be unifying?

Team Owner and Chairman Paul Dolan said, “Hearing firsthand the stories and experiences of Native American people, we gained a deep understanding of how tribal communities feel about the team name and the detrimental effects it has on them.”

I doubt that the team heard from anyone other than Native American activists for whom squashing Indian nicknames is a career. And what “detrimental effects” did the Indians’ name have on “tribal communities”? Needless to say, none are specified. I am pretty sure there have been no such detrimental effects, which is why polls have shown, repeatedly, that most Native Americans like Indian sports nicknames and don’t want them changed.

Politics has always been about the exercise of power. That is the whole point. What is odd about our contemporary politics is how small the stakes often are. Activists have forced universities and professional sports franchises to do away with Indian nicknames on the theory that they are somehow demeaning. They aren’t, in fact, as most Native Americans recognize. But that isn’t the point. The point is the raw exercise of power, even in such a modest sphere. Since no one on the other side cares much, the activists always get their way. It seems clear that Native American-derived sports names will soon be extinct.

Who suffers as a result? Indians, mostly. In this case, Cleveland baseball fans will get over it in time. But the suppression of Indian nicknames doesn’t elevate Native Americans in any way; it simply contributes toward making them more invisible than they already are. In Ohio, Native Americans represent 0.002 of the population. Sports team names account for most of the positive impressions that Indians–a tiny minority–receive in our culture. Soon that positive recognition will be gone.

This is doubly unfortunate in that Westerns, the other sphere of popular entertainment where Indians have figured prominently, are also going the way of the dinosaur. The Indian tribes, in their remarkable variety, are collectively heading for oblivion.

Chalk up another win for leftist activism.

Responses