National Pastimes — Racism and Misogyny in the World Series and the White House
A not so happy history of baseball
The 2016 World Series was one for the ages. For a baseball fan there is nothing better than a World Series game seven. An extra inning game seven is something special. An extra inning game seven with a rainstorm is truly epic.
The series featured the two major league baseball franchises with the longest World Series title droughts. Cleveland has still not won the World Series since 1948. 2016 was the first World Series victory for the Cubs since 1908. To say the fans in Cleveland and Chicago were hungry for a World Series championship would be a major understatement.
Both teams competed with inspired play. The action was riveting. All over the country people who would not call themselves sports fans found themselves caught up in the excitement of the Cubs first World Series win in 108 years. Before the final out game seven of the 2016 series was already being regarded as one of the best World Series games ever played.
And yet there was something off about this series. As truly amazing as it was, as historic as it was, I just couldn’t share the enthusiasm.
In the interest of full disclosure, I grew up in St. Louis, MO where baseball borders on religion. The St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs are long time rivals. As a lifelong Cardinal fan part of me hated seeing the rival Cubs break their World Series curse. That’s not it though. I may not like the Cubs but I love baseball and as a baseball fan I appreciate the historical nature of their victory. My lack of enthusiasm for the 2016 World Series goes deeper.
The team from Cleveland calls itself “The Indians”. Their logo is a caricature of an American Indian that they call “Chief Wahoo”.
The team name and logo have long been decried as offensive by American Indians and civil rights groups who have called upon the team to change their name and drop the racist logo. The offensive nature of the team name and logo seems fairly obvious and yet there are many people that can’t or won’t allow themselves to see it.
Team management and fans have resisted calls to drop the name and logo making hollow claims that the name and logo are intended to honor rather than offend, ignoring the opinion of those they claim to be honoring.
Team management often cites fan support as another reason to keep the logo and name. There is of course another reason. According to Wikipedia a 2006 documentary on the logo estimated that it generates $20 million dollars annually. I was unable to track down this documentary but regardless of the exact dollar amount it is safe to assume that the Cleveland baseball club brings in a great deal of revenue from the sales of merchandise featuring the racist logo. It is also fairly obvious that changing the name and logo would incur a great deal of expense for the ball club.
Fans often claim that the team name and logo aren’t racist. They claim that the name and logo are a cherished part of their history and heritage. The same claim is often made by folks who fly the confederate battle flag. The reality is both are true. The team name and logo (as well as the confederate battle flag) are symbols of history and heritage. They are symbols of a history and heritage of racism.
We don’t talk about it much but The United States of America was founded on the bodies and bones of the indigenous people of this continent. It is dishonest to tell the story of America without including the atrocities committed against the original inhabitants of this land. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group”. There is no other way to describe what was done to American Indians. This fact may make us uncomfortable but that does not make it any less true. We committed genocide before the term existed. We committed genocide before genocide was a thing. The use of American Indian words and imagery as names and logos for sports teams serves to normalize and trivialize this ugly truth. Racism is so integrated into our society that those of us who do not have to deal with it on a daily basis often don’t notice, even when it is obviously grinning right at us from a baseball uniform.
In 2014 the Cleveland ball club officially changed its primary logo from “Chief Wahoo” to a block letter “C”. However this has changed very little. The offensive caricature is still featured prominently on the sleeves of their uniforms and on much of their merchandise. The team still regularly wears caps that feature the racist logo. In fact throughout their historic post season run this year, when their visibility was at its peak, the Cleveland ball club did not wear their caps with the block letter “C” once. They wore their caps featuring the racist logo for each game. Even when they do wear the “C” on their caps their uniform shirts still say “Indians”
While the World Series was being played the most recent chapter in the American Indian struggle for survival was being written in North Dakota as thousands of American Indians were (and still are) standing up and fighting back against the Dakota Access Pipeline which has desecrated sacred lands and threatens their water supply. The disconnect between the reality of the World Series and the reality of Standing Rock is striking and speaks volumes about our society. Not once did the Fox Sports broadcasters mention the struggle unfolding at Standing Rock. The only hint of the events at Standing Rock that appeared during the televised World Series coverage was in the third inning of Game 6 when Addison Russell of the Cubs hit a grand slam home run to left center field. As the camera followed the flight of the ball into the stands a fan could be seen holding up a homemade sign that read “NO DAPL”.
People throughout the country got caught up in the excitement of the Cubs post season run but despite their historic victory the 2016 Cubs were not without controversy.
One of the World Series heroes for the Cubs was relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman. Chapman is an excellent pitcher. His brilliance in the World Series is undeniable. However athletes do not exist in a vacuum. They live lives off of the field of play. Early in the season Chapman served a 30 day suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. On October 30, 2015 police were dispatched to Chapman’s Florida home to respond to an incidence of domestic violence in which Chapman (then a member of the Cincinnati Reds) allegedly choked his girlfriend and fired eight gunshots. According to police Chapman was not arrested due to conflicting statements from witnesses. Although he was not arrested Chapman was suspended by Major League Baseball for 30 games at the start of the 2016 season.
During the World Series the only mention of this incidence of domestic violence by the Fox Sports broadcasters came during the 8th inning of Game 7 when Joe Buck mentioned the “domestic violence situation” as casually as if Chapman had missed 30 games due to an injury.
Joe Buck mentioned Aroldis Chapman's suspension for domestic violence like it was a pulled hamstring. #WorldSeries
This type of behavior has become so expected and accepted from professional athletes that it seems the only relevance it has in the sports world is how many games it causes a player to miss. This serves to normalize and trivialize the ugly truth about the level of violence towards women in our country.
The statistics are staggering and shameful:
Earlier this year the internet erupted in outrage over the lenient sentence given to former Stanford student and swimmer Brock Turner for sexual assault. The unfortunate reality is that most perpetrators of sexual assault receive no punishment at all. Those who are convicted often serve lighter sentences than we would expect. Sadly what made Turner’s case exceptional was not the details of his crime nor his light sentence. It was the articulate impassioned words of the victim of his crimes, known as Emily Doe, that brought the case to national attention. Violence towards women is so ingrained in our society that we often don’t notice unless it directly touches our lives or something out of the ordinary occurs to make us notice. The only reason Major League baseball became aware of the Chapman incident is because the Cincinnati Reds tried to trade him to the Los Angeles Dodgers approximately two months after the incident took place. During those negotiations the incident came to light, the deal was called off, and Chapman was suspended.
Six days after the World Series ended Donald Trump was elected President. Trump openly ran on a platform of racism and misogyny. While this was fairly obvious there are plenty of people who couldn’t or wouldn’t allow themselves to see it. (To be clear, there were also those who saw it quite clearly and voted for Trump because of it.) Many people who did see it expressed shock and surprise that a candidate who openly ran on such a platform could win the Presidency.
If asked most Cleveland Indian fans would not claim to condone the American Indian genocide, most Chicago Cub fans would not claim to condone domestic violence, and most Trump voters would not claim to condone violence and discrimination towards people of color and women. Racism and misogyny are so deeply ingrained in our culture that most of us often don’t notice. As a result we cheer for them during the World Series and we elect them to the highest office in the land. By doing so we tacitly condone their continued existence.
Baseball sadly, is not our only national pastime.
Cleveland baseball fans who do not self identify as racists have a moral obligation to call on their team to drop the racist name and logo. The same holds true for fans of the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Redskins, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Florida State Seminoles, and more. Failure to do so makes these fans complicit in the continued racist behavior exhibited by these teams that serves to normalize and trivialize the atrocities committed against the original inhabitants of this land.
Sports fans who do not condone violence towards women have a moral obligation to speak up when athletes display such behavior and when teams continue to employ athletes that display such behavior, especially when athletes and teams are repeat offenders. Failure to do so makes fans complicit in the violence towards women exhibited by these athletes and condoned by these teams. This is not a team or a sport specific issue. Chapman is now a member of the New York Yankees and violence towards women is an issue in other sports beyond baseball most notably in the NFL.
Throughout the country since election day there has been a rash of incidents of violence and intimidation directed towards women, people of color, Muslims, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community. As of November 29, 2016 the Southern Poverty Law Center had documented almost 900 of these incidents. Many of these could be characterized as hate crimes and can be directly connected to the election and campaign rhetoric of Donald Trump. In addition Trump is staffing his cabinet with individuals who have documented records of racism and misogyny. Soon Trump and these individuals will be responsible for shaping and enacting policy throughout the country. It is safe to assume that the policies they enact will have real life negative consequences for women and people of color. Assertions otherwise are intellectually and morally bankrupt. Trump voters who do not self identify as racists and misogynists have a moral obligation to not only condemn but also to take action to stop these hate crimes as well as the discriminatory and potentially deadly policies that will be enacted by the Trump administration. Failure to do so makes these voters complicit in the hate crimes and discriminatory policies that they enabled by voting for Trump regardless of the reasons for their vote.
Those of us who recognize the racism and misogyny inherent to Trump’s candidacy and impending administration do not get to sit back in righteous indignation patting ourselves on the back for a job well done. We are not off the hook. Once you see the racism and misogyny ingrained in our culture you can’t unsee it. Once you see this shameful reality you have a moral obligation to stand up and speak out. No longer can we claim shock and surprise when racism and misogyny rear their ugly heads. They made it to the World Series. They made it to the White House. We are obliged to take action. Failure to do so makes us all complicit in these disgraceful national pastimes.