More athletes being proactive about politics, please

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​It’s been just about a year — 11 months — since Howard Bryant wrote a column for ESPN that I haven’t really stopped thinking about since. Bryant discussed the problems with athletes and politics, and how they’re expected to give us strength by showing up on the field, but not by actually doing or saying anything political. And how far too many athletes are happy to oblige this expectation that they stick to sports, how they tend to be reactive instead of proactive about politics, if they do anything at all. You should read the whole thing if you never have, but for our purposes, here’s some of my analysis of a key section I’d like to revisit today:

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Cleveland won’t stop selling Chief Wahoo merchandise

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There are now more (and official) details on the story first written about in this space on Monday: The Cleveland Indians will be no more, as early as the 2022 season. They will instead become the Cleveland… something else to be determined, at that point. They’ll remain the Indians for the 2021 season, though, rather than go the route of the Washington Football Club, which is a bit of a weird decision for Cleveland, since they already have a C block logo for their hats and alternate uniforms that say “Cleveland” on them in their current scripts. It wouldn’t be very hard to just go by Cleveland for a season while they figure out what the long-term name is going to be, but alas, just like with Chief Wahoo, the organization isn’t in a rush to change the thing they are willing to admit is racist.

The more worrisome point to come out of owner Paul Dolan’s announcement on the matter was actually regarding that part of Cleveland’s identity that was supposed to be dead and buried back in 2019. In 2018, when Cleveland announced that the Chief Wahoo logo would be phased out — a move that happened only because, in what was a very poorly kept secret, the organization wanted the All-Star Game and MLB wanted them to lose the logo — it was clear that they planned to continue to manufacture and sell Wahoo merchandise locally. They wouldn’t do so nationally — you couldn’t find Wahoo-branded gear on MLB.com anymore — but if you went to the stadium, or local shops, you could still find licensed gear with the awful racist caricature of a Native American on it.

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The Cleveland Indians will finally get a new name

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It was a positive, on its own, that the NFL’s Washington franchise changed their name from one with a slur against Native Americans to the temporary “Washington Football Team.” There was also a potential trickle-down effect to look forward to, though, as, if even the franchise run by Dan Snyder could change their name and the culture of racism and appropriation that swirled around it, then it should be motivating for others with comparatively innocuous names like the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Indians to do something about their own issues.

That appears to be what has happened now, as Kansas City took steps in August to remove some racist elements from their stadium and game environment, and now we’ve got Cleveland finally admitting that it’s time to find a new name for their team. According to the New York Times, Cleveland will still retain its current name in 2021, but could shift away from it as early as the 2022 season. No other details are known at this point, as the team hasn’t announced their intentions yet, but are expected to sometime this week.

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The NBA’s players might not want NBA approval anymore

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Earlier this month, I published a piece in this space that discussed, in part, how NBA players had missed an opportunity to wield their collective power by giving in to the league and resuming the season amid a pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality. Nathaniel Friedman and Jesse Einhorn, at The New Republic, went much further and deeper on that particular angle in a feature titled, “The Dismal Politics of the Sports World’s “Wokest” League.”

Within that piece, Friedman and Einhorn explained how there were two opposing camps when it came to the return: the one led by Kyrie Irving and Avery Bradley wanted to tackle this moment in time by not playing, and instead do what they could to help and bring attention to the Black Lives Matter protests. The other camp, led by LeBron James, was more in concert with the NBA, with a different vision of activism. One more corporately approved, the thinking behind which led to this graph from the New Republic pair:

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The Chiefs removed some racist elements, Braves continue waffling

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The Atlanta Braves have been “in conversations” about the Tomahawk Chop at their games since at least the 2019 postseason, when it came under scrutiny from an opposing pitcher, Ryan Halsey, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation. Despite the obviousness of the racism that performing the chop entails, the Braves have hemmed and hawed their way through discussing it, pushing off actually doing anything substantive about it — like, say, getting rid of the practice — and wasted everyone’s time in the process.

More than just the chop needs to go for the culture of racism to be removed from the Braves and their fans, but it would at least be a start and a sign that they’re actually trying. Instead, we get Atlanta, in response to Washington’s NFL team removing the literal slur of a name from the franchise, that they won’t be changing their name, and oh, the only reason there is no chop this year is because there are no fans in attendance to perform it. Continue reading “The Chiefs removed some racist elements, Braves continue waffling”

Please don’t rush to defend the Nazi salute coach

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​Well, I didn’t expect to be writing about seeing a Nazi salute performed by the coach of a Major League Baseball team in 2020, but I guess that’s my fault for not taking this year seriously enough.

Now, let’s begin by saying that A’s bench coach Ryan Christenson probably isn’t actually a Nazi. Keep an eye on him and his social media posts for a while to be sure, but maybe there’s nothing there in that regard. His explanation was released in a statement the A’s put out, and it doesn’t make much sense, but at least he owned up to making the gesture:

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The sports world could use more Jaylen Browns

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Human rights are political

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If you’re confused about how “Human rights are political” is the headline of a sports story in a sports newsletter, then you missed a couple of items from this past week in MLB. On Monday, MLB’s Twitter account tweeted out video of Giants’ players and manager Gabe Kapler kneeling during the national anthem, and then responded to a fan who wanted to “keep politics out of baseball” by saying, “Supporting human rights is not political.”

You might think hey, that’s a social media person, not an individual with any real power outside of the trust given to them to handle MLB’s social media messaging, so it is not necessarily a reflection of anything, but then Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said something similar in response to the enormous Black Lives Matter billboard (in Red Sox font) outside of Fenway Park, stating that:

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The Braves’ half-hearted response to obvious racism is telling

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On Monday, I wrote about the Washington football team looking like they’re finally going to change their name — which is currently a racial slur — because FedEx threatened to pull sponsorship. That was the preamble for the real point of the piece, which is that these Native-based team names — including the Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, and Atlanta Braves — need to change even if they seem comparatively innocuous to A Literal Racial Slur. That’s because it will help to dismantle the absolutely racist tradition of “honoring” Native Americans by appropriating their iconography and creating a culture where white people in redface and headdresses banging on drums and dismissing the concerns of actual, living Natives is all considered acceptable.

The Braves do not agree, according to Ken Rosenthal. They’re focused on figuring out how best to address the deployment of the Tomahawk Chop, a racist chant that’s generally under fire but was brought closer to the flame last October, when Cardinals’ reliever Ryan Helsley criticized it during the postseason.

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Changing sports teams’ racist names is a start

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A long-running National Football League issue seems to be nearing its end, and it looks like it’ll just be the first fallen domino. Washington’s football team is finally going to get a name change from its current slur against Native Americans to… something else that hasn’t been decided yet, pending an “investigation” into their current name. But pressure from sponsors, including FedEx, which has the naming rights to Washington’s stadium, finally got the organization and owner Dan Snyder to move on changing the clearly racist name.

It’s a shame, of course, that the threat of lost money from corporate sponsors is what will get this long-awaited change to actually happen, and not Native Americans saying the name is a problem, not activists and organizers who have been on this case for much longer than should have been necessary. But then again, FedEx and co. weren’t going to move on this unless that pressure was there, either, so the “shame” here is mostly just on Snyder, who was going to be unmoved by any argument that didn’t involve his own wallet. And since there were always going to be enough fans willing to go to games and buy the merch even if everyone uncomfortable with the name never contributed a dollar, he was never going to get this ball moving.

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