This could be a difficult World Series for the politically correct.
The Cleveland Indians and their grinning, red-faced mascot Chief Wahoo face the Atlanta Braves, whose fans cheer them on with an arm-pumping Tomahawk Chop.
That’s no choice at all for Indian groups, which vehemently have protested baseball’s Indian nicknames, mascots, chanting and whooping.
“It’s offensive to see people dressed in chicken feathers, painted in what they call war paint, doing tomahawk chops and war whoops. None of that is Indian, and all of it is very demeaning,” said Ray Apodaca of the Administration for Native Americans.
The Tomahawk Chop - who can forget Braves owner Ted Turner, wife Jane Fonda and former President Carter doing it during the 1991 playoffs? - has aroused particular ire. (Fonda later vowed to stop the hand motion. But the cameras caught her doing a “modified chop” without full arm extension.)
“It constitutes an unwarranted attack on us as a people in the same way that Little Black Sambo was an affront to African-Americans and the Frito Bandito was an affront to Chicanos,” said Suzan Shown Harjo, a member of the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe and director of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, which promotes Indian traditions. “America can survive and flourish without its racist toys.”
Cleveland got its nickname in 1915 during a newspaper name-the-team contest. “Indians” was suggested because of Louis Francis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian who was the first Indian to play pro baseball.
The Braves, who first played in Boston, once were owned by John Ward and James E. Gaffney, “chieftains” in New York’s Tammany Hall political machine. The team was called “Braves” because the players worked for these chiefs.
One of the trickier World Series dilemmas will be shared by The Oregonian and Minneapolis Star-Tribune, two newspapers that have banned the use of Indian nicknames in their sports columns.
Paul Gelormino, deputy sports editor of The Oregonian in Portland, said the newspaper would continue to refer to the teams simply as Cleveland and Atlanta. And any reference to Chief Wahoo or the Tomahawk Chop will be avoided.
“If nothing else, they’re pretty much cliches in a sense,” Gelormino said. “Even if that wasn’t our policy, we’d pretty much stay away from it anyway.”
The Spokesman-Review has no policy concerning the use of Indian nicknames or mascots when referring to sports teams.