Chief Wahoo and Repentance

An offensive mascot demands more than critique.

Chief Wahoo, the mascot of the Cleveland Indians, is a racist depiction of Native Americans that never should have been used by the baseball team and certainly can’t be justified in 2016. There’s nothing complicated about this. The decision to keep the mascot (and, I would argue, the team’s name) is indefensible and made even more obviously offensive by the current desecration of Native American land in North Dakota.

During the World Series my social media feeds have been full of commentary in this vein. Well and good. But some of this critique has veered into familiar territory, where the critique itself absolves the critic. I’ve seen this critique expressed with sentiments by sports fans along the lines of, I could never be a fan of Cleveland because of their mascot.  I get the instinct – especially by a white person – to distance oneself from such blatant racism, but this move only gives the critic the appearance of purity. It’s a good thing to point out Chief Wahoo’s offensiveness, particularly to those who’ve somehow missed this painfully obvious fact. But this can’t be where we stop.

Consider the other team in the World Series. The owners of the Chicago Cubs support the Republican nominee for president and have contributed to his campaign. The team’s recent success is bound to expedite the gentrification that radiates from Wrigley Field, displacing those who can’t afford rising rents and property taxes. In a relatively direct way, a fan who buys tickets or merchandise is connected to a presidential candidate whose racism and sexism has been well-documented and to a neighborhood dynamic that impacts poor and working class people.

None of this is to say that people – and I’m thinking about Christians particularly – can’t root for the Cubs. (White Sox fans will debate this point.) It is, however, to question what we identify ourselves with – or distance ourselves from – as evidence that we are with it, that we’re not like those culturally insensitive, backward, racist people. Not being an Indians fan doesn’t place me above those who are. In fact, focusing only on a racially offensive mascot (politician, celebrity, pastor, etc.) can end up distracting me from the more subtle but no less destructive racial injustices associated with my own team (neighborhood, school, organization, etc.).

Granted, if I lived in Cleveland it’d be hard to get excited about their baseball team as long as they keep the name and that terrible mascot. But as a Christian, the injustice associated with that particular team deserves more than critique, it also requires personal reflection about how the logic that makes sense of Chief Wahoo has lodged itself within my own heart and mind as well.

OK, back to the game. And despite my south side pride… Go Cubs, Go!

 

Author: David Swanson

Pastor of New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville. Collecting signs of life.

1 thought on “Chief Wahoo and Repentance”

  1. I am a fan of the team from Cleveland and a fan of the team from Chicago. I find the mascot to be problematic but it has been a gradual journey for me. I started out not really caring when I became a fan at the age of 12. Through high school and into college, I started to see it as insensitive but had no vocabulary to describe it as such. To be a fan was to embrace the mascot along with its problems. Moving to Chicago and distancing myself from the proximity of people who care a ton about its continued usage allowed me to further evaluate it along with praying and questioning what it means to be a “fan.”

    This season it has become unavoidable and I have decided to call them the Spiders. There is an historical precedence for them to have a different mascot and name as the current one is not what they were called when they started as an organization. For me, it is important to use language that embraces the historicity of the club while avoiding the mascot. It has led to some very interesting interactions with serious fans who view my non-usage of the mascot or the word to be a critique of their own usage. To me, it is important to have the question of terminology in the mind of those who have viewed it without question regardless of the outcome. They have to view their own reaction to the mascot and maybe if enough people ask that question, changes begin happening.

    The same examining of self happens in other arenas as well. When my wife says “I’m a vegetarian” people respond with justification for their consumption of meat. When I quit drinking a few months ago, people began justifying their own drinking in ways that I never saw them do before. The defending of self in response to the offering of a personal choice is fascinating to me. It can be used as a tool and I have used it as a tool to push for other people’s self examining in other arenas as well.

    If I knew more about sociology and psychology I’d read into that defensive response to a personal choice but I’ll leave it as a question to rattle around until I’m at a cocktail reception, abstaining from alcohol, and have a sociologist or psychologist cornered.

    If you read this article, the “Origin and significance of the name”[1] makes reference to the Spiders which, as part of their story, has one of my favorite “can you believe this happened” sports stories [2]

    [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleveland_Indians_name_and_logo_controversy
    [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1899_Cleveland_Spiders_season

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