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Did the Cleveland Indians Really Demean Native Americans?

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

When the Washington Redskins bit the dust, the Cleveland Indians’ days were numbered, and now, as Paula Bolyard writes poignantly here, the boom has been lowered: the Tribe is no more. Major League Baseball in Cleveland, such as it is, will go on, at least until MLB’s suicide-by-wokeness is complete, and victories are awarded not on the basis of what happens on the field, but by the number of players of color minus the number of Trump supporters, etc. But after this season the team will be known by the colorless, odorless, tasteless moniker of “Guardians,” which should have guardians of all kinds up in arms today, since, as everyone knows, sports team nicknames are intended to demean and insult.

It is just another manifestation of our Age of Absurdity that anyone would think such a thing, but obviously they do, or Cleveland sportswriters would still be talking about the Indians’, not the Guardians’, prospect for the coming season, as they usually begin to do around late May. Highlighting just how absurd our age is, Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director of a group called IllumiNative, which claims to be dedicated to fighting misrepresentations of Native Americans, hailed the Cleveland Woke Nine’s name change: “It is a major step toward righting the wrongs committed against Native peoples and is one step toward justice.”

Wow. So the “Cleveland Indians” name was apparently a major wrong and injustice against Native Americans. In this connection, it’s useful to recall how the team got this name in the first place. Crystal Echo Hawk and her ideological kin likely assume that the Cleveland Indians were named by some early twentieth-century racist white supremacist who wanted to celebrate the victory of the white race over “Native peoples,” but reality is different, as is usually the case when it comes to what Leftists think.

The Cleveland Indians were named in honor of Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian from Maine who hit .338 in 66 games for the old National League Cleveland Spiders in 1897. Beset by alcoholism, Sockalexis played his last major league game in 1899, and the Spiders folded later that year as the National League contracted from twelve teams to eight. The new American League put a team in Cleveland in 1901, and even though Sockalexis was gone from the diamond, he was not absent from the hearts of Cleveland fans. Sockalexis died of tuberculosis in 1913 at the age of 42; two years later, the Cleveland team began calling itself the Indians.

Did the Cleveland team adopt the name Indians to mock Sockalexis? To celebrate his death and spit on his grave? Of course not. The Society for American Baseball Research notes that in January 1915, Cleveland team owner Charles Somers, “perhaps recalling the all-too-brief period of excitement that Louis Sockalexis had brought to Cleveland in 1897, dubbed his team the Indians.” While modern-day historians tend to discount this, they do so on the basis of the assumption that American society in 1915 was too racist to honor a Native American in this way. Sockalexis.net, however, a site dedicated to the memory of Louis Sockalexis, is adamant, saying flatly that Sockalexis “most certainly did inspire the Cleveland Indians’ nickname.”

Even if the latter-day historians are correct, everyone involved is assuming that the Cleveland Indians name was intended as an honor. The idea that sports team nicknames were demeaning and insulting only arose much later, and it is absurd on its face. Consider the animal nicknames that various teams carry: Lions and Tigers and Bears and oh my, only the most indoctrinated Leftist fool could possibly think that these were chosen for any reason other than to claim the strength and nobility of these animals for the team.

Ah, but there’s the rub, the woke will say, if they dared to quote a dead white male writer such as Shakespeare. Native Americans are not animals. To name one’s team after them is to dehumanize them. And that Chief Wahoo — what a derisive caricature!

Oh come on, wokesters. Chief Wahoo was a harmless cartoon, and one that inspired affection in fans of the Tribe and non-fans alike. It isn’t as if the Indians used something serious, like a cartoon of Muhammad. And the agitators against supposedly offensive sports team nicknames have never explained why Catholic priests aren’t picketing outside the San Diego Padres’ pleasant and artfully-designed ballpark, or why religious people of all traditions aren’t appalled at the prospect of a team called the Angels. If naming teams after something means we hate or mean to demean the thing, the Cleveland “Guardians” ownership should have gone whole hog and named the team the Cleveland Trump Supporters. In the new woke MLB, that would guarantee the Clevelanders a World Soy-ries ring every year.