Is Chief Wahoo demeaning?

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Yoo-hoo, Wahoo, someone’s watching you.

That someone is a Canadian tribunal which might consider whether the team logo of Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians is racist or not.

The logo in question is a grinning Native American caricature known as “Chief Wahoo.”

Canadian architect Douglas Cardinal had sought an injunction last fall – when the Indians met the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League play-offs – barring the use of the Cleveland team’s name and logo during broadcasts.

Cardinal, who has Blackfoot and Ojibway ancestry, claimed the name and logo were discriminatory. The court denied Cardinal’s request last fall.

But the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario said the court’s decision did not impact Cardinal’s claim before it.

The tribunal decided at the end of May that Cardinal’s case could proceed. The tribunal decided that a “full evidentiary record” was needed before the full tribunal could render an opinion.

Use of “demeaning and degrading” Native American team names, logos and mascots are insensitive and ridicule native cultures, according to Cardinal.

Similar complaints have been lodged over the years against baseball’s Atlanta Braves and football’s Washington Redskins.

The Cleveland franchise argued that the team’s name was meant to honor a former player, Louis Sockalexis. Sockalexis, a member of the Penobscot tribe, appeared in less than 100 games for the Cleveland Spiders over a three year period. He enjoyed a robust rookie year in 1897, where he batted a spectacular .338 in 66 games. Cleveland, then in the National League, finished in fifth place.

But tht was also the beginning of the end for Sockalexis. In July he injured his ankle when he jumped from a brothel window while drunk.

After that Sockalexis’ career dropped off dramatically.

He played in only 21 games in 1898, hitting a measly .224. He ended his career in 1899 after playing in only seven games.

Sockalexis is sometimes reported as the first Native American to play major league baseball. However, there has been some dispute about this. In the 1880’s the American Association was the major league of the sport and one of the teams had a catcher named Jim Toy, said to be native.

The first full-blooded Native American was Moses “Chief ” Yellowhorse, a member of the Pawnee tribe. Yellowhorse pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1921 and 1922, winning eight games during his career while losing four. In 1915 Cleveland, then in the

American League, were known as the “Naps,” a homage to their legendary second baseman Napoleon Lajoie. The team, so the story goes, asked fans what the new name should be and a “young girl” suggested the Indians, supposedly mentioning Sockalexis by name.

However, before the days of TV, it seems hard to believe that a young girl would remember a player who had been out of the game for 16 years! Even more damning to the team’s story is that a 1915 newspaper article on the name change did not mention Sockalexis.

Recently, the Cleveland Indians have changed their stance on the logo and want to work with the baseball commissioner’s office to find a suitable solution.

There is one baseball Hall of Famer with the nickname Wahoo; that is former Detroit Tigers star “Wahoo Sam” Crawford. But the moniker came from Crawford’s hometown of Wahoo, Neb.

John Christian Hopkins, an award-winning novelist and humor columnist, is a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe. See his writings at http://authorjohnchopkins. blogspot.com.

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