Refusal to call Cleveland team by name gets discussion rolling

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Avoiding saying a word that carries a traumatic history is a silent protest — but it can have a loud impact.

In light of the Toronto Blue Jays’ face-off with the Cleveland Indians, many Canadians are refusing to say the team’s full name because of its negative connotations on Indigenous populations and culture.

Sportsnet announcer Jerry Howarth hasn’t used the name — and ones like it, including the Atlanta Braves — since 1992. But for the first time, the act is garnering steam.

Passive protests like these are often perfect ways to start a discourse.

Like NFL player Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the anthem to protest the anti-black culture in America, it’s a simple and therefore powerful statement. They achieve exactly what they intend — get people talking.

It’s not easy to change traditions, but when the name of a sports team perpetuates a painful and traumatic history — a trauma that’s still a reality for many Indigenous populations — it’s time to uproot our traditions.

Stripping power from the name by refusing to say it is a good first step. But going forward, it’s worth considering how the movement is making a tangible difference. The national dialogue is significant but isn’t very valuable if it doesn’t translate to real change.

Sports teams are commercial entities, motivated by profit. If the movement was to mould into a protest of the games themselves, it would be more likely to trigger a long-awaited change in name.

The energy behind this issue is also meaningless if we don’t pay attention to other instances of discrimination against Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States, especially when they pose an immediate threat.

A baseball championship shouldn’t be the only reason that Canadians care about Indigenous issues. There are bigger challenges facing Indigenous communities that deserve the same amount of attention, if not more.

The dialogue driven by the protest of the Cleveland team’s name is valuable. Hopefully, the dialogue spurs real action — about this issue and others.  

— Journal Editorial Board 

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