Arguments For The Indians Name

This is the fifth and final segment in an ongoing series commenting on the history and future of the Cleveland Indians name and logo. Now we will look at the arguments for and against using the moniker of "Indians" for the Cleveland baseball team.

Against: Times change. Words mean different things than they did in the past and using the word Indian to describe a member of the race currently known as Native American is no longer politically correct. Even if it was acceptable in 1915, the common vernacular has changed and it no longer is. Assuming the team is named after Louis Sockalexis breaking the color barrier in 1897, it would have been like the Dodgers changing their name to the Los Angeles Coloreds in 1965 in honor of Jackie Robinson. The only reason one seems more offensive than the other is that there are more black people in the United States than Indians. 

For: The base issue that Indians is an offensive term is a symptom of a broader subject involving why any word can be offensive. What people should be offended by is not the words themselves, but the intent behind them. Cleveland fans love the Indians name. The players are proud to call themselves Cleveland Indians. There is not now and never was any ill intent behind the Cleveland Indians name. Yes, calling Native Americans Indians was originally a mistake, but the mistake stuck and has been around for more than 300 years at this point. It isn't going away because the PC police all of a sudden claim it is offensive.

Against: There are few sports teams left that are still named after races, but somehow almost all of these teams are named after Native Americans. Some of these racially based monikers have been taken as an identity by those races, including the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Florida State Seminoles and the Illinois Illini, but there are still some around with no affiliation. These teams, like the Indians along with the Braves and Redskins are proclaiming ownership over the people they named themselves after, using a name that is not theirs to use.

For: The Indians are not claiming to own anybody except for the 25 players on the everyday roster. The fact that the name is generic is actually a positive note. There were many tribes that lived around Lake Erie and the Indians name could be used to represent all or none of them, depending on the remaining members preferences. No particular tribe can say the team is named after them, so they can just ignore the name if they find it offensive. Again, the Indian name was created out of respect for the indigenous inhabitants of the state and country, specifically the first Native American to play baseball professionally, Louis Sockalexis, a member of the Penobscot tribe in Maine. A better analogy with team names would be if there was a team named the Vikings after the first people to discover North America in the tenth century.

While the name may be moderately offensive to some liberals (who almost always have no Native American blood), it at least has a meaning and a history. At least the team has remained consistent for nearly a century, not changing their name on a whim as they did early in their history. The name is mostly original (only the MiLB teams in Spokane and Indianapolis keep the name) and has meaning. While there are a few other teams named after Indians or Indian tribes, there are far less than teams named after non-indigenous animals (like Lions, Bears, Tigers or Penguins just to name a few near Cleveland), colors (be it of their socks or just Brown or Red) or other things that have nothing to do with the team's home town (like the Utah Jazz or Los Angeles Lakers). Ohio has a strong Indian history and has kept many Native words for places including name of the state itself as well as Cuyahoga (the county and the river it is named after), lake Erie and everybody's favorite place they have never heard of Ashtabula.

If Cleveland's professional baseball team can't be named the Indians, maybe all these other things should be changed as well. Instead of honoring a people that have almost been eliminated from this country, why not just eliminate them entirely from everything. Then there won't be anything left to be offended over.  

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since it's inception in 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona.

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