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United Church of Christ

533 Route 28, Harwich Port, MA 02646 | Phone: 508-432-1668

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Waves of Faith-February 2, 2018

I think it was 2001 when I was in Cleveland at a religious conference. After we had heard some inspiring speeches and attended some informative workshops there was an announcement in the plenary that we were all invited to march to the baseball stadium with signs protesting the name of the baseball club- The Cleveland Indians.  

Then we heard some speeches from local Native American people about how hard it was to hear to see Chief Wahoo used as a team mascot, and how degrading to have a caricature of Native Americans used in chants, slogans and pictures at the ball park.

Then as we picked up protest signs and lined up to march it started to rain on the streets of Cleveland. Somehow the weather only tested our resolve because by now we were all outraged and ready to march. I had not planned on protesting that night but suddenly something about that moment made it suddenly important to take a stand.

So we donned raincoats and sloshed along for blocks. With our signs dripping we surrounded the ball field the night of a game and shouted our slogans. Then we returned to our hotels and continued the conference in the morning. But we made some news and the papers picked it up and that felt good.  The United Church of Christ made more formal protests in 2015; it was important to keep the pressure on because the national offices of the UCC are in Cleveland, just blocks from the ball field. 

I thought of that experience this week.  The Cleveland Indians have decided to retire their mascot after this baseball season.   

The Cleveland Indians will stop using the Chief Wahoo logo on their uniforms beginning in 2019, according to Major League Baseball, which said the popular symbol was no longer appropriate for use on the field.

The logo has long been the source of anguish and frustration for those who consider it offensive, outdated and racist, but for many of the team’s fans it is a cherished insignia — a divide that has played out at all levels of sports in recent years with teams featuring such nicknames and insignias. Most universities have stopped using Native American nicknames, while other teams, like the Washington Redskins in the N.F.L., have resisted growing pressure to do so.

Chief Wahoo, a cartoonish caricature of a Native American that has assumed several forms over the years, first appeared on the Indians’ uniforms in 1948. In recent decades various groups across North America have appealed to the team to renounce the logo, to no avail. But over the past year the commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred, has pressured Paul Dolan, Cleveland’s chairman and chief executive, to make a change.

It reminded me of the prevalence of racism, how we grow used to it and often fail to see it. I was also reminded of the way that the arc of history continues to point toward justice, especially when two things happen. 1. People speak up. 2. We listen to one another.

Rev. Susan

Posted: Saturday February 3, 2018