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It's Not About Chief Wahoo

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

As a Native Clevelander, I'm not sad to see Chief Wahoo go. The Cleveland Indians' official mascot has bothered me since my age was in the single digits: "Why is his nose so crooked? Why is his face red?" I understood, even as a kid, that Chief Wahoo was an ugly ethnic caricature. Chief Wahoo is outdated, and the Cleveland Indians can do better. We need a new mascot.

But brace yourself, Clevelanders, because the Cleveland Indians probably won't be the Indians for much longer. Somehow, social justice warriors have turned the innocuous word "Indian" into the "i-word."

We've known this day was coming since 2014, after five Native Americans (yes, only five) calling themselves “People Not Mascots” won a lawsuit against the Washington Redskins to compel a name change. The group stated that they weren't satisfied, and that the Cleveland Indians were on their list, too.

At least one could argue that someone, somewhere in American history has used “redskin” as a disparaging term. (Although Slate Magazine published a long, well-researched history of the word "redskin," and it’s a lot more complicated than that. It seems the people who invented the term “red skins” to describe Native Americans were…Native Americans.) But since when is “Indian” an unspeakable insult?

Even the National Congress of American Indians, the group behind an anti-Redskins Super Bowl ad, included the word “Indian” in a list of positive ways to describe Native Americans. Oh, and the National Congress of Native Americans has a lot more than five members. Anyway, now that People Not Mascots won its lawsuit against the only team with an arguably racist name, they’ve moved on to claiming that mascots—all of them—are inherently offensive.

“It’s been offensive since day one,” a member of People Not Mascots told NBC News. “We are not mascots. My children are not mascots. We are people.”

Uh oh. If people aren’t mascots, and that’s what the problem is, then we just opened the door for all sorts of groups—historically oppressed or not—to start spamming the courts with petty lawsuits. Aren’t most team names and mascots based on people? How about the Dallas Cowboys? Cowboys were real people in American history, and many lived short, brutal lives in stark conditions. How can we mock their history? People, not mascots! What about the little redheaded man with his fists in the air who represents Notre Dame’s “Fighting Irish”? As a half-Irish person and a distant descendant of the real-life Irish boxer Jack Dempsey, I’m offended by this stereotype. (Just kidding. You’d be hard-pressed to find an Irish-American who cares, much less one who’s outraged—and trust me, there’s nothing Irish-Americans love more than being outraged.)

Treating team names like "Indian" and "Braves" as unspeakable insults shows a total lack of perspective about historical injustices and historical slurs. During the controversy over the Washington Redskins lawsuit, a few brave African-Americans in the entertainment industry took a public stand against the left’s ridiculous–and disingenuous–crusade to make any term they personally find offensive into the new "n-word." After People Not Mascots won its lawsuit against the Redskins, black comedian Kevin Hart emphatically told CNN’s Don Lemon that “redskins” will never carry the weight of the n-word and to stop equating the two.

Hart insisted that the word “Redskins” had been a beloved team name “celebrated” in American culture for 70 years and was never used as a racial slur by the general public. Hart said the n-word comparison was “not at all fair” and “unacceptable.”

I agree. The left is always looking for an opportunity to exploit the unique status of African-Americans–the only group that was kidnapped, brought here in chains and then systematically oppressed for centuries–by suggesting other slights and injustices, real or imagined, are “just as bad.” They’ve tried to turn “illegal” (as in illegal immigrant) into the “i-word.” They regularly compare anti-gay slights to Jim Crow, as if a baker declining to design your wedding cake is the same thing as being lynched for looking at a white woman, or having the police turn a vicious German shepherd on you for trying to vote. Now it’s “Redskins” that’s supposed to be the n-word--or even more ludicrously, the benign word "Indian."

If the team changed its name to "Oppressed Indigenous People of Color," would the moral crusaders be satisfied? Or is this little more than a power trip?

I’m not going to downplay the existence of racial stereotypes, injustices (historical and modern), and slurs. Nor am I going to suggest that all groups, like the Irish, have suffered equally from these things. I do, however, believe in sorting out pressing issues from petty ones. “Indian” is not a slur—at least not to anyone but a few power-hungry individuals filing lawsuits and claiming to be offended. Why should a handful of agitators be permitted to change the name of a sports team in a city they don’t live in and would probably never visit?

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