Off the record: offensive team names need to change

The Cleveland Indians represent just one of many sports teams with offensive names. It's 2016 though; it's time for change.

The Toronto Blue Jays are playing the Cleveland Indians for the chance to play in the World Series, but don’t expect longtime Blue Jays announcer Jerry Howarth to say it that way.

Howarth went on the Jeff Blair radio show on Toronto’s the FAN590 last week and made public a decision he had made more than two decades ago to never use Cleveland’s team name in his broadcast because it is found offensive by many First Nations people.

For this, Howarth should be commended. Howarth said he made the decision back in the 1992 series when the Blue Jays won their first series against the Atlanta Braves. His decision stemmed from an off-season letter from a listener in Northern Ontario who was a member of a First Nation and told Howarth that he found such terms deeply offensive.

“For the rest of my career, I will not say ‘Indian’ or ‘Brave’ and if I was in the NFL I would not say ‘Redskins’,” Howarth told Blair on air.

Personally, I’ve listened to Howarth announce baseball games for as long as I’ve been alive and have never noticed that he was purposefully and morally avoiding using the offensive moniker. While I believe it’s important that he took a stand for what he thought was right without imposing his beliefs on others throughout the years, it’s critical that he has finally made this public in hopes of starting the conversation around these sports names that, like the racism they harbour, need to be washed away from the sport.

This is because, as offensive as the Cleveland name is to many Native Americans and First Nations, it’s not the worst. That shameful prize belongs to the Washington Redskins of the NFL, whose owner Daniel Snyder insists that the term is a mark of honour and respect.

Oxford’s English Dictionary, on the other hand, describes the word as “dated and frequently considered offensive.” An informal New York Times opinion that drew more than 2,000 responses was heavily against the term with one respondent Monica Draper, a member of the Navajo Nation, saying, “As a child, my classmates would make fun of me by calling me a redskin. I’m sure they did not say it as a compliment.”

To me, if one person is offended, that’s one too many, especially by the name of a sports team something that exists to entertain, not arbitrarily offend. After all, what potential good can come from trademarking a sports team using an ethnic stereotype of any kind?

Really, who’s it hurting to change these names, other than the owners’ bottom line? The answer is no one. Ultimately, owners and the sporting world in general are resistant to these changes because they’re afraid of rebranding an entire franchise, and more or less are resistant to change itself.

Still, just because changing the name is the right thing to do morally, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. For now, all we can do is kick the tires on the issue when we can. Refrain from using the names until it gains wide enough recognition that owners will change it to something that fans will rejoice in.

That’s the dream anyways.

If you have any ideas for what to rename these sports teams, shoot me a line at eric@invermerevalleyecho.com.

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