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Jeffery Kurz

A team by any other name

When it comes to sports, I root for the teams from New York. I root harder for some teams than others, I’m a much bigger Yankees fan than I am a Mets fan, for example, but generally if you play for New York you’re all right with me.

Because I have a family history in the city, I’ve also been partial to the teams that play for Cleveland. There hasn’t been much to celebrate. The last championship was in 1964 (the Browns).

It didn’t bother me when I was growing up, but over the years I’ve become increasingly ill at ease with Chief Wahoo as the Indians mascot. It’s the cartoon caricature of an American Indian face. In 1994, when the Indians, the team, moved to Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field), President Bill Clinton threw out the first pitch. Instead of wearing a cap with the Chief Wahoo logo, which is what the team typically wore, he opted to wear an alternate one with the letter “C.” I remember thinking, if the president of the United States doesn’t want anything to do with Chief Wahoo, why should anyone else?

Controversy over the use of American Indian names in sports is not limited to Cleveland, obviously. The most recent high-profile situation concerns the Washington Redskins, with the owner of the franchise under pressure to change the name. How offensive it is appears to depend on who you talk to, but it’s clearly unsettling.

What I know is that American Indians were all but wiped off the face of the world by the expansion of European settlement. They did not give up without a fight. The Comanche, who at one time controlled an area from somewhere near Dallas to New Mexico and Colorado, were arguably the greatest cavalry in military history. There’s some irony here because the Comanches got their first horses from the Spanish, and from then the horse dramatically changed their culture. They used horses in battle, as opposed to using them to get to a battle.

I’m not aware of teams that use the Comanche, or the Apache, Iroquois or even Pequot, as mascots, but it wouldn’t be much different from using Trojans or Spartans, in the sense of long-gone once-formidable entities.

In any case, controversy concerning American Indian names in sports is not limited to the professional level. At Wilcox Technical High School, in Meriden, a new gym floor replaced an Indian with a headdress with a logo of Indian feathers around the letters WT. An online revolt via a Facebook petition objecting to the change gathered nearly 1,000 signatures after two days. A student said he wanted to remain an Indian, as opposed to a dream catcher.

“... that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” said the Bard, via Juliet in that famous play. But it’s clear many don’t feel that way when it comes to changing team names, or mascots, whether it’s in Cleveland, Washington or Meriden.

jkurz@record-journal.com (203) 317-2213



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