The time for Indian images in sports is long gone

jtarica@thetribunenews.comMarch 9, 2013 

The mascot of the North County Indians semi-pro baseball team, based in Templeton, has drawn criticism.

As a baseball fan and card-carrying member of the Choctaw Nation, I am annoyed by the North County Indians’ grinning Chief Wahoo logo, which recently became a topic of local discussion.

Like Chumash administrator Fred Collins, I have Native American blood in my veins, which makes me uniquely qualified to comment on issues like this.

Granted, I may not be quite as qualified as Collins, who oversees the Northern Chumash Tribal Council and lodged the recent complaint.

OK, I’m almost certainly not as qualified.

Fine, my ties to the Trail of Tears make up only 1/32 of my genealogical blueprint. No, I didn’t walk from the Mississippi homeland to an Oklahoma reservation. Are you happy?

But that fraction is still probably more than you, so this makes me more of an expert.

Now listen here.

We long ago passed the era when it was cute or funny to brand sports teams around cartoonish racial imagery.

Despite some high-profile holdouts, most reasonable sports organizations have reduced this kind of stereotyping or ditched it altogether, despite the difficulties such transitions may present.

I know, it’s not easy putting a stop to all that tomahawk-chopping and war-whooping. See Florida State University and the Atlanta Braves.

But it’s the right thing to do.

This particular version of the Indians moved to Templeton last year after four decades in Santa Maria. It claims to be the oldest semi-pro baseball franchise in California.

But just because it’s done something one way for more than 40 years doesn’t mean it can’t start doing things differently today.

Honestly, guys, what overwhelming value are you getting out of this silly caricature, or even the team name itself?

Would you not play just as well with a bear cub or a cougar or some other benign but reasonably intimidating critter on your hat? The North County Giant Kangaroo Rats has a nice ring to it.

And actually, the relocation to San Luis Obispo County is a prime opportunity for a little re-envisioning for the franchise. Sports teams move and change names all the time, for lesser reasons than this.

Nevertheless, the sensitivity argument still may not fly with you. So let me try another one and appeal to your base sporting instincts.

This logo is a copy of the Cleveland Indians’ mascot.

The Cleveland Indians are a very bad baseball team, whose level of historic ineptitude is rivaled only by the beloved but woeful Chicago Cubs.

The Cleveland Indians have not won a World Series in 65 years.

Why would you want to model your modest semi-pro ball club on that kind of legacy?

Maybe 40 years ago, when they were only a quarter-century into their World Series-winning drought. But now? Why still now?

So, North County Indians, it’s time to send Chief Wahoo to the great mascot retirement home in the sky.

Whether you do it to mollify the Native American community or to unhitch your wagon from that deadweight team in Ohio, just do it.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at jtarica@thetribunenews.com or on Twitter @joetarica.

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