Argument Prospectus: Take Wahoo Out of the Ball Game
By the early part of the twenty-first century, the move toward equal civil rights for all has done much to improve the lives of groups previously marginalized by systemically racist American power structures. Yet to say the racial landscape has changed in its entirety would be false. Indeed, pockets of resistance remain which seem relatively intransigent. One playing field of such intransigence is sports, especially professional sports. A principal area of this vestigial racism in sports is in regard to Native American team names and mascots. To their credit, high schools, colleges, and universities with offensive, racist team names have done well in the past fifteen years to rename their teams and remove their mascots. On the other hand, the record in pro sports–especially for the Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League, the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League, and the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball–is much worse.
As a native Clevelander, I shall concern myself with the lattermost of the above group. Since the 1940s, the Cleveland Indians have used as a mascot/logo Chief Wahoo, a stereotypical depiction of a Native American that is racially offensive and demeaning to Native Americans. Opposition to Wahoo has been in place, both in scholarly and journalistic discourse, as well as in protest rallies, for fully a generation, yet the ball club still retains its use, and adherents seem to have retrenched themselves. Further discourse on the matter will hopefully be productive in persuading the populace of the wrongness of Wahoo, especially in reaching an audience of eighteen- to twenty-year olds who may not have critically examined their own beliefs about Wahoo. Therefore, I shall argue that, regardless of claims that Wahoo honors Native Americans, the Cleveland Indians should cease using that logo. My main line of argument will be that the logo is patently racially offensive and hence not in keeping with the democratic principles upon which our society is built. Moreover, I shall argue that the effects of this lingering racial prejudice have weighed and still weigh heavily upon Native Americans.
Wahoo’s supporters, however, are numerous and vocal in their support. Their main objection to Wahoo’s removal is tradition. While I will concede that tradition is a fundamental aspect of any society, I will rebut this objection, first by demonstrating that the historical basis for a “tradition of Wahoo” is at its heart invalid, and second by calling into question the very nature of tradition as a legitimate line of argument. My source materials will constitute a mixture of scholarly and journalistic sources. The journalistic sources will help me make the case that the history of Wahoo rests upon an invalid set of underpinnings. The scholarly sources I plan to use to establish the psychosocial effects of the use of Native American mascots.
With luck, I will be able to move a significant part of my audience to agree with my position and, moreover, to act upon it in calling for the end of Wahoo.
Annotated Works Consulted
Black, Jason Edward. “The ‘Mascotting’ of Native America: Construction, Commodity, and Assimilation.” American Indian Quarterly vol. 26, no. 4, 20 Apr. 2002, pp. 605-22. Black, a cultural critic, analyses mascots as “commodification tools” used to assist in the European-American appropriation of Native American culture. I will use the article to reinforce my lines of argument about the effects of mascots upon Native Americans.
Brady, Erik. “Taking a Stand against ‘Redface’.” USA Today, 22 July 2014, p. C1. Brady focuses on various reactions to sports fans wearing supposedly Native American garb, such as feathered headdresses. I will use the article in my discussion of tradition and its role in the controversy.
Briggs, David. “Chief Wahoo Must Go.” Cleveland.com, 5 Apr. 2008, blog.cleveland.com/lifestyles/2008/04/ chief_wahoo_should_go.html. Briggs, the then-current Plain Dealer religion columnist, indicts white attitudes about Wahoo and other Native American mascots. I plan to cite Briggs in support of my ethical/moral line of argument.
Dolgan, Bob. “Tale of Indians’ Name Off Base: Legend of Louis Sockalexis As Origin of Nickname Strikes Out with Baseball Historians.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 17 May 1999, final ed., pp. D1+. Calling upon archival news reports from 1915, sportswriter Dolgan rebuts the accepted view that the name of the Cleveland baseball club was to honor a player, Louis Sockalexis, who was a member of the Penobscot Nation. I will use this article in my rebuttal of the argument that the name and logo of the team honor Native Americans.
Freng, Scott, and Cynthia Willis-Esqueda. “A Question of Honor: Chief Wahoo and American Indian Stereotype Activation among a University Based Sample.” Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 151, no. 5, 2011, pp. 577-91. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 Sept. 2014. Freng and Willis-Esqueda examine racial stereotypes and how they might be triggered by images such as sports mascots. . They find that Chief Wahoo engenders negative stereotypes about Native Americans. I will use Freng and Willis-Esqueda in support of my claims of the deleterious effects of Wahoo.
Fryberg, Stephanie A., et al. “Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots.” Basic and Applied Social Psychology, vol. 30, no. 2, 2008, pp. 208-18. Focusing on the psychological effects of Native American mascots upon Native American high school and college students, Fryberg et al. conclude that the students’ self-esteem and self-image suffer as a function of self-limitation in the face of mainstream America’s narrowly stereotypical representations of Native Americans. I will cite this work in demonstrating the deleterious effects of Native American mascots.
King, C. Richard, and Charles Fruehling Springwood, editors. Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy. U Nebraska P, 2001. This anthology examines various aspects of the debate, including the historical foundations of Native American mascots. I plan to call upon and integrate its historical perspectives in my argument.
Spindel, Carol. Dancing at Halftime: Sports and the Controversy over American Indian Mascots. New York UP, 2000. Spindel analyzes white America’s attachment to a romanticized and, hence, stereotypical view of Native Americans, in particular its effusion throughout American sports. Her treatment of the matter will help me to encapsulate the positions of my opposition.
Staurowsky, Ellen. “You Know, We Are All Indian.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues, vol. 31, no. 1, Feb. 2007, pp. 61-76. Staurowsky discusses white reactions to the NCAA policy that impelled colleges and universities to abandon Native American mascots. Even if they are not stereotypical, such mascots represent cultural misappropriation of Native American culture on the part of whites. The reactions to the forced abandonment of these trappings reveal much about white privilege and power structures. I will cite Staurowsky in in supporting my claims about the injurious effects of these mascots.
Zimmerman, Jonathan. “The Cleveland Indians’ Mascot Must Go.” Christian Science Monitor, 15 Oct. 2007, www.csmonitor.com/ 2007/1015/p09s01-coop.html. In an op-ed piece, Zimmerman argues that the Cleveland Indians should abandon the Wahoo logo. Zimmerman covers much of the same ground as Dolgan–he clearly has read the Dolgan article, though he does not cite him specifically. But Zimmerman is also a respected academic historian who should be able to lend greater authority to my lines of argument.