By: Ryan Hill
Sometimes it’s not easy to root for the home team. I’d imagine many baseball fans in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Houston fully understand that sentiment. Even in tough seasons, though, little things can make it easier, whether it’s a great ballpark, cheap tickets, family traditions, or the home team pulling off a surprising victory.
I never had that problem. Growing up in Georgia through the 1990’s, it was as easy as it could be to root for the home team. Every single member of my family, women included, adored the Braves from the minute the team moved from Milwaukee to this day. My father took me to my first game in 1988 at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, and I’ve easily been to over a hundred games since. As it happens, the Braves managed to win 14 straight division titles, beginning when I was age six and ending when I was 21. It’s hard not to be a lifelong fan under those conditions.
Some things can make it difficult to root for the home team, even when they have a promising season ahead. For this Braves fan, the recent decision by the organization to revive the “screaming Indian” logo on their batting practice caps is one of those things that makes rooting for the home team a difficult matter. Not only is it a poor decision that will alienate fans (and give Phillies fans a reason to ridicule us), but it is also a morally repugnant way of building the teams image by appropriating that of other cultures in a caricatured and offensive manner.
The revival of the “screaming Indian” logo is yet another insult to a people that have endured genocide and oppression on this continent for over 500 years. These aren’t issues “in the past,” but part of a sad legacy that extends today, as American Indians continue to have the highest rates for poverty, homelessness, and suicide in the US. In Canada, First Nations people are currently protesting severe attacks from the Harper government in the form of a bill weakening environmental protections and enabling the leasing of indigenous lands. The continued existence of these stereotypes and offensive images may not be as bad as the “real issues,” but why add insult to injury?
Some of my friends who are American Indian, or just sensitive to racial issues in general, wonder how I can support a team called the “Braves.” They ask if I actually do the “tomahawk chop” and chant (the answer to that is a quick “no”). Sometimes I just shrug at the first question and acknowledge that not everything I do is consistent with my political beliefs and that we all have our contradictions. At other times, I try to explain how it’s about the game of baseball, about family tradition, about feeling rooted to something in a rapidly changing world.
I have many interests and passions, but baseball might as well be my religion. So, I understand the nerves that are touched when anyone criticizes your team, and the uniforms—no, the sacred vestments donned by Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro, and other priests of the diamond. This, I believe, is the source of much defensiveness and sensitivity when these issues are raised, and the blog “Native Appropriations” posted an excellent response to this reaction several days ago.
But, of course, the issue is bigger than baseball and it has absolutely nothing to do with you, your family, the game, your team, or your heroes. It’s about real people and the way that images and reality are not all that disconnected. The more that American Indians and First Nations people are seen as cartoons and caricatures of the past, the less they are likely to be seen as people that exist today, who continue to make contributions to human culture, and who continue to be denied many of the basic rights and respect afforded to others.
For these reasons, nothing in the baseball world—not even a World Series Championship for the home team—would please me more than seeing an end to the “tomahawk chop,” Cleveland’s Chief Wahoo, and this terrible logo chosen for the new caps in Atlanta. There was a time when professional baseball moved ahead of society, defying Jim Crow and racially integrating the sport. Today, even with all the formal tributes to its Civil Rights legacy, baseball lags behind by condoning American Indian mascots.
I hope Atlanta will do the right thing and avoid causing any further offense by using the “screaming Indian” logo. If not, this fan is going to have a hard time rooting for the home team in 2013.
Ryan is currently living in Rangers territory, where he works for the labor movement, but still considers the Ted his second home.