(submitted in response to John Leo's March 8, 1999 U. S. News and World Report Column "War Against Warriors")
February 28, 1999
Mr. Leo's claim that "many [Indian] nicknames seem harmless or positive" in his March 8 column "War Against Warriors" is ludicrous. It is true that the Cleveland baseball club was named to "honor" Lou Sockalexis, but as a native Clevelander I am aware that this fact remains unknown to most fans. It is the grinning bright red image of "Chief Wahoo," not the accomplishments of a proud and talented player, that is conjured in the minds of the public upon mentioning the Cleveland "Indians."
Since Native Americans find the use of the nickname and its symbols offensive, they must be changed. The fact that "Redskins" is deemed relatively more offensive than "Indians" or "Blackhawks" is a cop-out . "Boy" may be relatively less offensive than "nigger" or "coon," but its meaning and associations are nonetheless pejorative. Mr. Leo's insistence on using the term "Indian" 17 times while using "Native American" only once (in reference to Sockalexis) and naming actual peoples only three times (Lakota Sioux, Sauk, Cherokee) typifies the ignorance and racism that underlies the resistance to changing these mascots. The term "Indian" itself was born of the European conquistadores' mistaken belief that they had "discovered" a Western trade route to India.
Professional and amateur sports teams have changed logos, nicknames, and even cities more times than one would care to count and they continue to thrive. The bottom line in keeping "the Chief" and its kindred racist symbols is money. His face was one of the most profitable and recognizable logos in sports well before Cleveland's two recent World Series appearances. As long as "Wahoo" sells, his grin will shame us.
In response to Mr. Leo's opening question "Should the federal government be involved in determining the mascot or nickname of your local high school sports teams?" I answer an unequivocal "yes!" If these symbols do not create a "hostile environment" and are indeed truly "harmless" and merely "indicate... a fierce fighting spirit," then ask the people of Jasper, TX if they are interested in adopting the "Confederate Knights" or "Aryan Brotherhood" as mascots to personify this spirit.
Milton Alan Turner