By the time you read Foul and Fair next week, we’ll know who won the World Series. Seriously. Give it a week--or the next three days, and somebody’s narrative that’s lasted my entire life and decades more--will cease to exist. So sit back and sip from your teacup of sentimentality this weekend.
Actually, don’t. This week, we have an interview with Jacqueline Keeler, a Native American activist and co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry. In addition to her work trying to pressure schools, colleges, and professional sports leagues to remove stereotypical mascots, Keeler, whose lineage includes both Navajo and Plains’ ancestry, is also campaigning against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Friends, while many of us have been consumed with sports and the election, for weeks now hundreds of Native Americans have been protesting its construction, demanding that the government ban an energy pipeline that could potentially compromise their water supply and would run precariously close to their sacred lands. As of writing this intro, a federal judge paused the construction of the pipeline the same week authorities moved in to crackdown on the protesters’ camp. (Read more.)
All that to say, think for a second if you’ve paid attention to the MLB playoffs’, which the entire month have included a team called the Indians, but are only hearing of this story--one involving 280 tribes--and consider what that reveals. Here’s what Keeler suggests: “No other ethnic group in the country is mascotted to the degree native people are, while simultaneously excluded from any other kind of portrayal.” Here’s your opportunity to find another image of this magnificent community beyond the sad face of Chief Wahoo.
We also brought along a new friend, Joyce, to share her take on being a Cleveland fan since moving to the city ten years ago. Plus, our old friend, Dr. Louis Moore, to gave us a primer on race in the World Series, past and present.
Leadoff Hitter: Longform that lays off the first pitch.
Foul and Fair: How did you start protesting Chief Wahoo?
Jacqueline Keeler: I was born in Cleveland and my parents were part of a native community very active in getting rid of Chief Wahoo.
I didn't really confront the mascot issue until attending Dartmouth. Dartmouth’s mascot used to be the Indians but after they started recruiting native students in the early 70's, the team name and logo became contentious.
When I got there my freshman week, they gave away free Dartmouth Indian shirts to all the freshman. This van just started throwing them out at everyone. My roommate, who is white, took one. I tried to explain to her why it was wrong and it was really strange that she just could not seem to grasp why it was offensive. It was the first time I really encountered the way mascotry works on people. My roommate could not grasp the mascot’s offensiveness to my culture.
FF: Why do you find offensive about Chief Wahoo?
JK: It is by far the most grotesque caricature of a native person in sports. I coined this term mascotry, because mascots have an effect well beyond the game. Some will say "You opposed this native mascot and look how handsome he is. Why do you have a problem with it?" or "The name isn't so bad!" But, here’s the issue: having a mascot gives people the permission to indulge in a stereotype about native people and to act them out in real life.Once all people know is the stereotype, it masks the lived realities of native people.
There's no balance in the media. You don't have modern Native American families on television with their own TV series. You don't see native people as news anchors. When I meet other Americans, and I tell them I'm Native American, often the first they tell me is "Wow i didn't know you even existed. You're the first Native American I met."
It's still pretty crazy that when I tell people that I'm from here, they say, "No, originally," because for them, I can't be from here if I don't look white. That's the extent to which native people have been erased from this continent. It's a product of genocide and it’s why it's so horrific when that people parade in the culture that is akin to trophyism. As if [white Americans] defeated these people. Now they can take what they want from them and wear them and dress themselves up in the worst stereotypes of our culture.
There are 2,000 high schools that have Native American mascots. How would that complicate your life? What added level of misunderstanding would it add to your relationships with your peers? What kind of burden would it put on your educational process?
Studies have shown that mascots reduce the self esteem of native youth and increase stereotyping from whites. If that’s true, it works against building a healthily multiethnic and multicultural America. I don't think the human brain can handle mascotry. It's done purely for entertainment value, It demands such a big price from the most vulnerable population in the country.
FF: How should Cleveland and other sports teams alter their logo and team name to dignify Native American heritage?
JK: I’m sure they could come up with something that’s more meaningful to them. Emory University researchers studied colleges which gave up Native American mascots and found that after two years of changing their mascots, schools had greater fan participation. Emory researchers surmised that having a native mascot cost the school in fan participation. According to their estimates, the Cleveland Indians lose $1.8 million dollars per year due to their mascot.
FF: Cleveland was in the World Series twice in the 90’s and one win away in 2007. Are people paying more attention this now? If so, why?
JK: Social media. My organization Eradicating Offense In Native Mascotry launched the hashtag #NotYourMascot during the 2014 Super Bowl in 2014 and we trended it nationally. We began tangling with the owner of Washington DC’s football team, getting him to trip up and say stupid things (laughs) culminating with me working with the producers of The Daily Show to release an episode profiling the team and their fans.
We don’t want to just get rid of mascots--we want to replace them with images of natives as we know them to be. Even though we're only one percent of the country, when we all work together we can be heard.
FF: Is this the most #problematic World Series ever?
Lou Moore: Certainly every World Series before 1947—the Dodgers had two black players on their WS team in 1947—were problematic because they were segregated. But if we just look at this series, we have to agree that seeing the Indians mascot is a major problem, especially with the military oppression of native peoples going on right now.
FF: Tell us about how integration played out for these teams.
LM: After MLB integrated, Cleveland was ahead of most other teams. They brought in Larry Doby just three months after Jackie Robinson made his debut. A year later, they signed Satchel Paige, then Luke Easter. The consistently had black players on their team, and were a model club for diversity. The Cubs, however, delayed for as long as they could and missed the boat on several talented black players until they signed Ernie Banks in 1953. For black Americans in Chicago, this was a problem, because they already felt unwanted on the North Side to begin with and Chicago had a rich history of black baseball.
FF: When, if at any point, did you become uncomfortable with the mascot and nickname? How come? What led to that?
Joyce Huang: I was never comfortable with the mascot and the name. In fact, I did a group project in college about racist logos and the Cleveland Indians/Chief Wahoo was our focus. As I learned more about the pain that Native Americans faced, it became very clear to me that I couldn't support the mascot. Since then, I haven't bought any Indians gear at all, though I would consider buying the block C in support of a logo change.
FF: How do you think the organization should respond?
JH: The fans here range from clueless about Chief Wahoo (i.e. they've heard it's racist but have no idea why) to adamant and perhaps even aggressive. It's interesting - my husband and I have had discussions on this as Cleveland transplants. There's a part of Cleveland that is rapidly changing and evolving as our industries and attitudes change, with new people, domestic and global, moving here... but at the same time, there's a part of Cleveland that has stuck to tradition and 'the way things were' even at the expense of its future, like with manufacturing. When I first moved here about 10 years ago, I felt like all around me, parts of Cleveland were just stuck in the 60s and 70s. And I think that may be part of the attitude around Chief Wahoo - sticking to something that is tradition because it's what they have left to hold onto. Unfortunately, that happens to be an extremely offensive logo. You can't escape the iconic scenes of Major League with Charlie Sheen wearing the Chief Wahoo cap.
It's actually quite divisive - I hear people from the younger generation (and some older) saying they could never fully, 100% be on board with the Indians as long as Chief Wahoo exists. Then, you have a very large contingent of people who say they would disavow their baseball team if Chief Wahoo went away. The organization is caught in the middle and indebted to their fan base - though Shapiro didn't like it and started to phase in the block C, he still thought fans should have the right to wear it.
I think this can be done several ways, but it will be against the will of the fans and the organization - MLB or federal fines for using logos, federal or state legislation, etc. I think the only way fans might stop wearing the logo is if there's some rumor that it's cursed. Haha.
Delay of Game: All you can read before the clock expires.
Hope my boss likes our protest. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and other stars released an NBA-produced, one minute TV spot about, well -- they don’t really say. They do implore viewers to “listen to each other,” “figure it out,” and “use the game we love as a bridge.” They do show some teammates locking arms during the national anthem. They also narrate their platitudes over footage of a cop playing pick-up hoops with some “at-risk,” “disadvantaged,” “underprivileged,” youth. You know, urban.
Absent from the video is any specific criticism or interrogation of why we don’t listen to each other and what we need to figure it out, and how the officer using the game he loves as a bridge would be held accountable by his criminal justice system if he shot and killed one of those kids while they were playing in the park.
This is a one minute video, so much of our gripes are obviously beyond its scope. But what is clear is that the NBA has framed this kind of public stance on the issues, in part because it its top brass does not want its players copying Kaepernick. Bleacher Report spoke to a few stars, as well as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, about the league-approved activism taking a very different form than Colin Kaepernick’s open defiance.
There remains value to the anthem protests, several players said. But no one who spoke to B/R Mag indicated NBA players would follow suit. In the preseason, many NBA players instead chose to lock arms during the anthem—a display of awareness and togetherness, not protest.
“He’s done it,” Anthony said of Kaepernick. “He was courageous enough to do that. He created that. He created the kneeling and that protest. And people fell in line with that. Some people supported it. Some people didn’t. But at the end of the day, and I’m not taking nothing away from him...I just don’t think the gesturing is creating anything. I think it’s bringing awareness, but I think doing stuff and creating awareness in the communities [is more effective].”
Then Silver, referencing Anthony, Dwyane Wade, CP3 and LeBron James’statement at the 2016 ESPYs:
“These guys put themselves in a leadership position,” Silver told B/R Mag. “So when they see sort of symbolic gestures by athletes in other sports, and not to devalue them in any way, I think their view is: We’ve moved past that stage already. … We will be judged by the substantive actions we’re taking in our communities.”
Meanwhile, a black artist set to sing the anthem at the Philadelphia 76ers home opener wore a shirt reading “WE MATTER.” before her scheduled performance. Team security forbade her from entering the court. Because the league has moved past “symbolic gestures”, though, to be clear, they do not devalue them in any way.
Baseball’s whiteness: feature or bug? Okay, that’s probably an essay for another day but here’s this sentence taken from a worth-your-time-piece on the Cubs’ contribution to baseball’s color line:
Cap Anson’s effort to make baseball all white — which, disturbingly, didn’t deter us from fondly calling it America’s pastime — became the game’s hallmark for more than half a century: 60 years. But forreal, y’all? Do we really think that we can segregate a game for decades, desegregate it, and then pretend it shouldn’t matter in its current integration problems?
*Wishful thinking, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.*
Also, when a nostalgic and sentimental baseball lover wants to tell you that the sports’s not white because look on the field, this rebuttal has the charts and data man!
Finally, from The New York Times:
Do you still dream of being a manager? I ask because this 55-year-old man is a 15-year minor league manager with a winning record and multiple titles to his name. He has won four Manager of the Year Awards in the minors. Then he moved upstairs with the San Diego Padres and won three organizational awards for excellence in player development.
He whistles softly. “I mean, I haven’t thought about it for a while,” he said. “As the years go by, you kind of put it on the back burner. But I’m not going to say the door is closed.”
I have left out a salient detail here: Jones is a black man.
Kap’s Cross to Bear. How does justice get accomplished? How do you get things done? How do you do the work? How do you move from kneeling on the sidelines to making boards and executives squirm? This is Kap’s new target for his activism, notes The Undefeated. And it’s not getting any easier.
High-profile black athletes like Kaepernick have to take the protest into boardrooms and executive suites. They must force the teams for whom they play, apparel companies that they represent, to hire and promote African-Americans as well as place them on their boards. They must insist that their teams and the large manufacturing companies they do business with do so with an ever-widening network of black vendors. This is not public work and it’s not sexy, but athlete-activists can use their increased visibility to raise the question of economic inclusion and use their leverage to force the answer.
The cost of Gold. Possibly the most famous people in gymnastics, Bela and Marta Karolyi are the subject of a damning new civil suit. A former US national team member has alleged that the all-star couple (naturalized citizens originally from Hungary) "turned a blind-eye to Nassar's sexual abuse of children at the ranch" and "instituted a regime of intimidation and fear at the ranch for the minor children under their custody." ESPN deep dive here.
Best Fans in Baseball (Are Those of Cards’ Chief Rival). On Twitter, she goes by Shake Arrieta, but both her teams are playing in the World Series. “It feels kind of lonely sometimes when you're a black woman who loves baseball and I know that it's not really that way, so I started seeking out others and found them." Meet Shakeia Taylor, who brought nearly 20 women from all racial backgrounds to Wrigley Field last year.
And meet Caitlin Swieca, whose decision to donate $10 to the Illinois-based Domestic Violence Legal Clinic has turned into a $20,000-plus movement, #pitch4dv. After the Cubs acquired Aroldis Chapman, who was suspended for the first 30 days of the season because of claims of domestic violence, Swiecachanneled her disappointment into advocacy.
“I had a pit in my stomach the first few times Chapman pitched for the Cubs, but as the social media response to the campaign grew, I stopped dreading it so much,” Swieca told Sports Illustrated. “Every save reminded me how many fans out there are not okay with his presence on the team.” (Here you go, if you feel compelled to donate.)
Are we in Believeland? Say what you will about the Indians’ landing home field advantage, but the fact that beat writers spent additional days in Cleveland, rather than Chicago, made for some poignant reporting from a hard-hit Rust Belt city. As Grant Brisbee points out in this lovely testament to the Mistake on the Lake, when the Indians last won the World Series, the city was the 6th largest in America. Today, it’s the 51st. Savor its (white) people--surely Ohio has sports fans of color, national sports writers--their forgivable cynicism, their puzzled bliss. But also wonder why years go by in parts of the country without us asking why we overlook them.
What’s in a name? Were the Cleveland Indians named for 19th century Native American ballplayer Louis Sockalexis? Oh well it’s complicated. But it’s pretty clear that Cleveland’s association with Native Americans came from its association with Sockalexis, who was victimized by racial slurs and racist remarks by opposing fans. It’s all very messy, but Joe Posnanski is not afraid of going there.
If you liked this...
If you liked this and ironed on $28 worth of fabric letters onto a $7 t-shirt to gift your favorite player with a shirt suggesting his fun-loving personality, you saw him on television wearing it, and it spawned a hundred-of-thousand dollar (all for charity) t-shirt craze, party at Napolis!
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Morgan and Bradford