WHY NOT NOW?

Here’s why it's past time for sports to adopt a new code of conduct

Braves, Blackhawks, Chiefs – your time is coming. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Although it was reported that the Cleveland baseball team would drop its "Indians" nickname in favor of "a new, non-Native American based name" in time for the upcoming season, Cleveland owner Paul Dolan says the team will play as Indians one more year.

"We'll be the Indians in 2021 and then after that, it's a difficult and complex process to identify a new name and do all the things you do around activating that name," Dolan said, after conferring with officials from several indigenous groups, like the Cleveland Indigenous Coalition and the National Congress of American Indians.

"We are going to work at as quick a pace as we can while doing it right. But we're not going to do something just for the sake of doing it. We're going to take the time we need to do it right."

It's a disappointing delay. The right time to do it right was long ago. If something will be a good idea in 2022, why not now?

Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, Kansas City Chiefs – your time is coming.

Maybe there was an era when it was OK to have sports nicknames reflect ethnic groups, but not today. While "Indians" or "Braves" may not be as obscenely racist as "Redskins," it's a simple rule: if the name is unacceptable or upsets or hurts the feelings of the group referred to, that's enough, don't use it. Change it to something more clever or more tolerant, easier to get behind.

1995, Atlanta and the Indians met in the World Series. As expected there were demonstrations in front of both ballparks. Ken Rhyne, then co-director of the American Indian Movement, said, "We're the only race of people that has sports mascots and sports teams named after them. If it was the Atlanta Negroes, the Atlanta Hispanics, any situation like that, the stadium would be burned down overnight."

Teams should stick to Bears or Eagles or Giants. Naming a team after its GPS is always safe. Everybody who lives near NRG Stadium is a Texan by virtue of zip code, license plate or brains in their heads. So the McNairs named their team "Texans." It's a unifying nickname that everybody can relate to, that inspires pride in our hometown. In fact, the team's marketing slogan one year was "We are Texans." All of us. By comparison, only a small percentage of people who live in Ohio are Native Americans.

It is disheartening how wearing a facemask to combat COVID-19, taking down statues honoring Confederate war leaders, and sports teams' nicknames have become political firestorms.

As Bob Dylan said in The Times They Are A'Changing, "the line it is drawn." Many conservatives, including President Trump, don't want Native American-inspired team nicknames changed. Liberals, for the most part, do.

The sad thing is, Washington finally giving up Redskins, and Cleveland announcing it will stop using Indians, shouldn't be based on politics. It's about inclusion, kindness and sensitivity.

A few years ago, Robert E. Lee High School in Houston changed its name to Margaret Long Wisdom High School. How would you feel if you were African-American, you worked hard, joined the Army, and paid your taxes. Yet you had to send your children to a school named after an insurgent general who killed U.S. soldiers to protect the right of slave masters to own your ancestors?

Still think that sports nicknames aren't political red meat? Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the two incumbent U.S. Senators from Georgia involved in a heated runoff election, released a joint statement this week. About the economy? Coronavirus? Foreign policy?

Sens. Loeffler and Perdue, both conservative Republicans, said, "We adamantly oppose any effort to rename the Atlanta Braves. Not only are the Braves a Georgia institution, they're an American institution. The Braves' name honors our nation's Native American heritage, which should not be erased, and under no circumstances should one of the most celebrated teams in sports cave to the demands of the cancel culture and the radical left."

Cleveland and Atlanta already have taken steps to disengage from their Native American nicknames and images. Cleveland has stopped using Chief Wahoo as its mascot, and Atlanta has toned down encouraging fans from doing the tomahawk chop. Both seem to be surviving the controversy, both made the 2020 baseball playoffs.

The currently (and temporarily) named Washington Football Team finished 3-13 last year as the Redskins. This season, they're 6-7, in first place in the NFC East. Call it karma, although their improvement probably has more to do with the play of medical miracle quarterback Alex Smith than dropping their racist nickname.

Across the U.S. hundreds of high schools, colleges and pro sports teams have changed, they are in the process, or giving thought to dropping offensive nicknames in favor of something kinder and less hurtful.

Cleveland owner Dolan has seen the light. "It was a learning process for me and I think when fair-minded, open-minded people really look at it, think about it and maybe even spend some time studying it, I like to think they would come to the same conclusion: It's (Indians) a name that had its time, but this is not the time now, and certainly going forward, the name is no longer acceptable in our world."

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