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Thirteen months ago, before Game 2 of the World Series, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred shared a podium with Hall of Famer Henry Aaron and retiring Red Sox titan David Ortiz. Manfred was asked how, with the world watching baseball's marquee event, the league could still abide the Indians' using Chief Wahoo as a mascot. Manfred fidgeted, annoyed by the presence of a fastball where there were supposed to be only softballs. He insisted there was no place for racism in baseball and, attempting to douse the issue, said he and Cleveland Indians owner Paul Dolan would revisit the issue in the offseason.
A year later, Manfred suspended Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel for making a racist gesture at Yu Darvish during the World Series -- yet has left intact the smiling stereotype of Chief Wahoo. Players are so much easier to punish.
While plates and bellies are loaded with turkey and stuffing this year, the Washington Redskins will, for the first time and quite controversially, host a game on Thanksgiving. Some eyes will roll at the suggestion that sports is humiliating a people, but neither fatigue nor cynicism can undo a central fact: There is plenty of room for racism in American sports. All the eye rolls in the world won't change that.
Instead of debating racism, it is more appropriate to wonder why Native Americans are spared the dignity of progress, why the sports industry continues to insult them today as society commonly did 100 years ago. To many fans, perhaps nothing feels more American than logos like those of the Indians, Blackhawks and Redskins, but that feeling requires ignoring the history. Native Americans were excluded from being American -- from the 14th Amendment of 1868, which granted equal protection and naturalization of all citizens born on United States soil, to the 15th, which granted African-American men the right to vote, in 1870. Native Americans were not granted American citizenship until 1924 and did not receive full nationwide voting rights until 1957. By that time, each of the team names, as racist then as they are today, was well fixed within the sports culture. America has chosen logos over people.
The customer is always right, but only if you're the seller. If you're not, it is obvious that the fan acts from selfishness. This is their entertainment, and the racist logos and offensive names are a nostalgic part of their memories and experience, and they aren't willing to give them up. Washington owner Daniel Snyder knows this, which is why he has spent his time and money bankrolling studies and Native American leaders who agree with him, to use them as cover instead of using common sense.
"You cannot have capitalism without racism," Malcolm X once said. His statement was directed toward the class warfare that lies at the root of capitalism, and it applies even to the blankets, foam fingers, jerseys, caps and T-shirts the sports teams sell, even on a day ostensibly dedicated to a giving of thanks and peace between settlers and natives. The hypocrisy is disgusting.
Once more, there is a difference between difficult and complicated. For the leagues, it might be difficult to once and for all treat Native Americans with humanity by having the courage to risk the money and start a new history with new names and better attitudes. But there is precedent. When spoken and written, people now commonly use "the N-word" to replace its more offensive antecedent; the patronizing, sexualized connotations of "stewardess" long ago gave way to "flight attendant." Society did not come unmoored.
It might be difficult for sports leagues to appear to capitulate to the protest behind a word's usage, even if that capitulation is out of simple decency. It might be difficult for teams and the public to admit their casual racism. It is not, however, complicated to understand that these logos must go. It is not complicated to know a relic from the first decades of the 20th century, routinely regarded by historians as the most racist period since the antebellum era, is inappropriate today. In classic misdirection, the Boston Celtics are often used as a false equivalent in this ersatz debate -- a team name harmlessly based on an ethnicity. But people freely use the word "Celtic" in common speech without offense. Consider this while passing the cranberry sauce: Outside of discussing the Washington football team, who in mixed company comfortably and routinely uses the word "Redskins"?
Enough. We all know better.