Sports teams need to be held accountable for racism

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It’s tempting to see the Cleveland Indians taking the infamous Chief Wahoo logo off their uniforms as a job well done, but the minimal gesture shouldn’t deserve anything more than minimal phrase. 

Not only will the logo continue to exist for the foreseeable future on Cleveland Indians merchandise, but the team also won’t be changing their on-field uniforms until 2019. Perhaps most glaringly contradictory, the team has no plans to change their name. 

If the Chief Wahoo logo, a racist depiction of Native American peoples, is “no longer appropriate for on-field use,” it’s not appropriate to sell on merchandise either. Making a small concession on a long overdue issue isn’t enough for the Cleveland Indians team owners to be commended for. 

If they truly believed the logo was inappropriate, they wouldn’t continue to brand their team with it. Their approach appears to be to phase the logo out over time, but by refusing to change their name along with the logo, there’s not much progress being made.

It took a lot of pressure and negotiating to finally get the ownership of Cleveland to give an inch, but they need to go the whole mile before they deserve public approval. 

Unfortunately, the Cleveland Indians aren’t the only professional sports team that profits off of racist depictions of Indigenous Peoples in their branding. The Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Redskins and Edmonton Eskimos have similarly refused to change their names or logos despite also being challenged on the negative impact their depictions have on Indigenous Peoples.

This problem isn’t contained to professional sports; there are over 40 youth sports teams in Ontario alone that have equally inappropriate racially insensitive names. 

Although the Cleveland Indians are just one example, these teams perpetuate a long-standing brand of racism that justifies appropriation as appreciation. The North American public is extremely uninformed about the history of Indigenous Peoples and the unique contemporary issues they face. The Cleveland Indians and other sports teams are one symptom of that wider ignorance. 

The teams involved are some of the most profitable in the United States. A small group saying they won’t support teams that use racist branding won’t cut into their revenues. There needs to be a cultural shift, brought on by widespread education on the issues affecting Indigenous Peoples, so that real change can happen.

It’s indefensible to continue to profit off a name and brand that commodifies marginalized people. While the Cleveland Indians have taken a step, they’re still very far from where they need to be. 

— Journal Editorial Board

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