The Dolans will get the Cleveland Indians name change right because they know what they are doing.
I live in the Puget Sound region, where about three percent of the population is Native American. Around here, there is much more concern about opioid addiction, affordable housing, and the depletion of the salmon population than about Chief Wahoo or Dan Snyder. When they have time to discuss sports at all, they complain much more about the performance of Seattle’s baseball team than by the mascot of the Cleveland Indians.
Still, If you wait for people to tell you they are offended by something, you are too late. Chief Wahoo is a caricature, which by definition is meant to ridicule, which undermines any case the team has that they are honoring Native Americans, even now. Even if the intent isn’t malicious, mascots and nicknames are, above all else, marketing tools, and a marketing tool that offends even a small portion of its target audience should be reconsidered. That isn’t to say they should be eliminated, but to ask whether they provide enough benefit to justify the harm that they do.
The Indians have been somewhat sheltered in this controversy because the focus has been on Dan Snyder. This is partly due to the fact that, even while resisting the protests, the Indians have treated the issue with the utmost respect, while Snyder has…not. Since this is a family site, we’ll just leave it at that.
The dilemma that the Indians face with the name change is complicated. Move too soon and they look like they are trying to be politically correct. Move too late and it looks like damage control, which from a marketing standpoint is catastrophic. At some point, though, they will change the name, because as a society the natural tendency is to become more tolerant and respectful toward others. Anyone born before 1975, for example, probably has a relative who used the n-word as a standard part of their vocabulary. People who cheated on or beat up their spouses were considered more respectable than people who wanted to marry someone of the same gender.
That’s not to condemn people, just a statement of fact. People are conditioned by what they see around them. Our kids know better, though, for the most part. And their kids will know better than them. They understand that hypocrisy and cruelty are greater evils than who we choose to love or how we worship. That is how societies evolve; those that don’t tend to end up part of history, if they are remembered at all.
If there is a deciding factor in this, it is a huge marketing opportunity. In one stroke, every fan will want a new jersey, which will spur an enormous amount of impulse buys, as anyone with a Peyton Hillis or Andrew Bynum jersey in the back of his closet will attest. There are few opportunities in life to do the right thing and turn a profit. This is one of them. The Indians won’t let this decision be dictated by expediency, protesters, or the news cycle. They will be methodical, rational, and disciplined like they are with everything else. We should trust them to get this right because they usually do.