When Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth sits down behind his microphone in Cleveland tonight, he will be making an important statement.
It won’t be his call of the highly anticipated American League championship series opener, although that baseball game will surely draw the attention of millions of rabid Blue Jays fans.
Instead, his statement will reflect his personal conscience, his decision to take a public stand and do what’s right. Let’s hope it won’t get lost amidst all the hoopla of this playoff series to decide the American League pennant.
Howarth is continuing his effort to rid baseball of racist or inappropriate logos, mascots and team nicknames. He will not utter the word “Indians” as he calls the play-by-play. He will say Cleveland only. He will not mention team mascot Chief Wahoo. Other broadcasters are following suit. Good for them.
It’s ironic that the Cleveland baseball stadium is known as Progressive Field when the use of the nickname and logo are among the most regressive holdovers in sports.
For non-sports fans unfamiliar with the current furor, the Cleveland logo is a caricature of a Native American, with a red face, black hair, triangular eyes and a feather poking out from the back of his head.
There has been a lengthy debate over the identity of Cleveland’s baseball team. It has gained international attention once again, thanks to the superb regular season enjoyed by Cleveland and its sweep of the Boston Red Sox in the American League divisional playoff.
Howarth is doing what he can and other sports broadcasters should follow his example. It’s time to rid sports of such lingering embarrassments. Cleveland is not alone in baseball or pro sports. The Atlanta Braves and its tomahawk chop are equally inappropriate. Howarth says he stopped using team names like Indians and Braves, and terms such as tomahawk chop and mound powwow, when he received a letter from an aboriginal fan after Toronto defeated Atlanta in the 1992 World Series.
It speaks well for Canada and Toronto (and the former Montreal Expos) that when major league baseball came to town, they had the good sense to use appropriate nicknames and mascots.
Canada is not above reproach. We still use titles, names and logos that are offensive and disrespectful. We still have the “Indian Act,” which refers to all indigenous and First Nations peoples as Indians. There are still many place names and some sports team names that are inappropriate.
Cleveland owner Paul Dolan might think he doesn’t deserve this critical spotlight because he has — to his credit — pushed the nickname and mascot into the background this year. It’s a good start. No doubt it will take a boycott by sponsors and fans to finally force such sports dinosaurs to make, not only the politically correct decision, but also the right decision.