Back in October 2016, my two-year-old son and I were watching the World Series during dinner. Cleveland vs. the Chicago Cubs.
As the Fox broadcast headed into a commercial during the seventh-inning stretch, the camera lingered on what appeared to be a white man looking forlorn in the stands while decked out in fully stereotypical "Indian" regalia: gaudy facepaint, a bedazzled feather headdress, and a Cleveland baseball jersey.
Inappropriate, right? Yes. Shockingly so. But Joe Buck and John Smoltz, the two white male broadcasters in the Fox booth, didn't mind. They thought it was funny. Take a look:
One minute, we're watching baseball. The next, my son starts learning that a white man wearing the Indigenous equivalent of blackface is something to chuckle about.
If you're wondering how we soak up our implicit biases when it comes to race, gender and everything else, look no further than this example of my two-year-old understanding that this form of racism is funny and acceptable. That "Indians" are silly mascots.
There are other ways to handle this.
As a lifelong Minnesota Vikings fan, I couldn't help but think back to another memorable call from Joe Buck, when misunderstood wide receiver Randy Moss caught a 61-yard touchdown in Green Bay in 2004 and pretended to moon the Packers fans in the seats. It was, at that time anyway, a tradition for Packers fans to moon the Vikings team bus after games, but Buck didn't know that, and he reacted intensely on the air to Moss' gesture. Take a look and a listen again:
When Joe Buck sees a Black man pretend to moon some arguably deserving white fans, he speaks forcefully: "That is a disgusting act by Randy Moss, and it's unfortunate that we had that on our air live. That's disgusting by Randy Moss."
He makes it crystal clear that Moss' actions are not something to tolerate.
Years later, when Joe Buck sees a white man literally cloaked in a specific kind of racism that needs to stop being normalized, he laughs.
He makes it subtly clear that racism is something to tolerate, and perhaps to enjoy.
A Challenge: Stop Waiting for Things to Change. Stop saying the name now.
Today is Opening Day, the first of many days I'll spend watching baseball with my sons again this season. On this most glorious and joyous day of the year, I'd like to offer you a challenge: Don't say the name of the Cleveland baseball team this season.
(I'm assuming, just to be clear, that you've already stopped saying the name of the NFL team in Washington DC. If you do still occasionally use that volatile racial slur, even just in talking about football, you should definitely stop.)
The Major League Baseball Commissioner's Office made sure this offseason that Cleveland would stop using its longstanding Chief Wahoo logo from now on. It's a first step, and it's a sign that Cleveland's team name is going to be changed before much longer, too. As I see it, there is only one dignified way to handle things in the meantime. Perhaps you can't stop talking about the team with the racist name, but you can stop saying the racist name.
In our house, we don't say the name of the team in Cleveland anymore. We don't even call them the Tribe. It happened pretty quickly after a shared family experience, and for at least a year now, we've just said, "Cleveland." I've been surprised how quickly it's become natural after a lifetime of not thinking twice about it. And in a family of Twins fans, it certainly comes up.
Things are in flux right now. The name of the Cleveland baseball team is an example of culturally approved, institutionally normalized racism. The name, and everything that comes with it, helps to perpetuate biases and beliefs in all of us. It needs to change. It needs your weight to help tip the scale.
We don't need to wait for permission to live our values. Until the name changes, the Cleveland baseball team doesn't have a name to be said.
As always, you and I have an opportunity to be leaders in this area, or to be complicit by sticking to the status quo. You wouldn't need to directly announce what you're (not) doing for it to have an impact. What matters most, knowing what we know, is that we do our part to stop circulating something that isn't right. It will feel good for you to let go of this, and to be clear with yourself about where you stand.
Did you know there was a big league team called the Cleveland Spiders in the late 1800s? That's such a great name that Cleveland wouldn't even need to come up with a new name. They could just go back to being the Spiders, their original, better, less-racist nickname.
Anyway, Spiders aside, I hope you'll consider meeting this modest but meaningful challenge. I'd love to hear your thoughts.