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Off-Day Filler?

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I was pulling for the Colorado Rockies to continue their astounding run through the playoffs.

But even their great story has its bad side. Namely, baseball writers needing to fill space on a day without baseball.

See, the Rockies -- if they'd allowed the Arizona Diamondbacks to win but one game – would have played last night and the sportswriters would have been talking about Todd Helton or Matt Holliday or who-the-heck Yorvit Torrealba. (No relation to Jessica Alba. I checked.)

But since the Rockies eliminated Arizona late Monday night/Tuesday morning and the Red Sox and Cleveland Indians had an off-day, we were left with two stories that wouldn't have gotten such major play if there had been actually baseball to discuss.

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First, Salon.com's King Kaufmann uses the opportunity to touch on the concerns some have about the Cleveland Indians logo:

I suppose reasonable people can disagree about whether the team name Indians is offensive, but there's just no arguing about Chief Wahoo. It's a Little Black Sambo-style caricature that should have been retired decades ago. If those fans in Cleveland had been in minstrel-show blackface, ESPN never would have run a photo of them without comment, as simply a depiction of happy fans in the stands. The picture only would have run as the centerpiece of a story about fan racism.

And there is nothing about grinning-Indian redface that's even a little bit less racist than minstrel-show blackface.

This is off-day filler, but it's also a point that pops up repeatedly in the sporting world. For every proud Fighting Irish fan over the years – and there have been a lot of them – there are people peeved at the Hoftra Flying Dutchmen (now the Pride) or the St. John's Redmen (now the Red Storm).

And living in Washington, DC, I've seen a lot of people over the years critiquing the Washington Redskins for their nickname and logo as well.

It sounds like a legitimate concern to most of us, but things get muddy when you see that a reputable organization like the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania asked Native Americans if they themselves were offended by the Redskins logo back in 2004 and came up dry.

A poll of American Indians found that an overwhelming majority of them are not bothered by the name of the Washington Redskins.

Only 9% of those polled said the name of the NFL team is "offensive," while 90% said it's acceptable, according to the University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey.

That's an interesting little bit of background to inform the Redskins debate. I was wondering if there was similar information on the Cleveland mascot, so I called up the Annenberg press office, and they informed me they did not have data on the American-Indian reaction to the Cleveland Indian Chief Wahoo mascot. So I checked in with the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance, a major critic of the mascot, and they didn't get back to me too rapidly either. I also tried Dr. Ellen Staurowsky, an expert in such things up at Ithaca College, but was informed it was fall break. (Wow. Remember fall breaks? Those were swe-e-e-e-e-t.) Needless to say, I did not get to talk with Dr. Staurowsky, but I'm no competition for the foliage this time of year in upstate New York.

So here's my $.02. When you're looking at the Redskins case, the logo is classic-looking profile of an Indian Chief (in my mind) – resembling something you'd see on an Indian Head Indian Head nickel. So I can see how it gets a pass from the Native American community. But the Indians logo truly does call to mind Black Sambo or a similarly belittling depiction. (Go ahead and click. See for yourself.) That being said, I'd be interested to hear what Native Americans think. I'd be surprised if they disagree, but I'd respect their view.

I've got an idea, and it works if the Indians win or lose. So, Cleveland Indians press office, listen up:

  • If the Indians win, call a press conference and announce that you're retiring Chief Wahoo while he's on top. Hold a parade, if you want. But then retire him to the old photos and Hall of Fame. Find a new mascot. Maybe former mayor Dennis Kucinich has a suggestion in his breast pocket?
  • If the Indians lose, hold a press conference and say that – much like the Red Sox had the Curse of the Bambino and the Cubs have the Curse of the Billy Goat, the Indians are suffering the Curse of the Chief. And then, to exorcise the ghost of the curse, retire him to the shelves of the history office and find a new mascot.

    Oh, and the other story that was off-day filler? Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez shrugging off the possibility of losing, saying "it's not like the end of the world." According to the Washington Post's report:

    "Why should we panic?" Ramirez said. " . . . We're just going to go play the game, and move on. If it doesn't happen, so who cares? There's always next year. It's not like the end of the world or something."

    Depending upon one's interpretation, Ramirez's comments represent either a refreshingly candid, nihilistic view of something -- a mere game, after all -- to which people attach far too much significance, or the blissfully ignorant rantings of a man-child who simply can't appreciate the notion that some people do, in fact, care about the outcome.

    The airwaves of American angry sports talk radio are filled with anger -- but they're trying to have it both ways. Aren't these the same people who praise athletes when they see The Big Picture? Aren't these the same people who, after September 11th, said things like 'It's times like these that remind us that sports are but a diversion' or 'We use the word hero too much. The real heroes perished trying to save lives in the World Trade Center.'

    I know it's an off-day. I know column inches were stretching before America's writers, begging to be filled. But sometimes, Manny's just gotta be Manny.

    (And I'd rather have him play loose than tight. Wouldn't you, Red Sox fans?)

    Clarification: This story originally said of King Kaufman's column that it was his "annual To Hell With The Cleveland Indian Mascot! column." This writer intended to humorously convey that racist logos are a topic he returns to occasionally. It was not meant literally.

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