SEATTLE - We start tonight with one of the most controversial and polarizing mascots in all of sports: The Stanford Tree.
As a Stanford alum, it’s the question I hear the most: Do you actually like that tree, dancing around like an idiot?
To which I have two responses: First, that the Stanford Tree is actually the band’s mascot – not the school’s mascot – which makes a lot more sense if you’ve ever seen the wackiness of the band. And second, yes, I actually like the quirkiness, randomness and uniqueness of a crazy tree that looks different every single year.
But after further research, it’s important to add a third and much more important response: That Stanford’s official team name is a color – Cardinal, for Cardinal red.
And I’ve never been more proud of that fact.
Here is part of what was presented, along with a petition, to remove Stanford’s former team name: “It brings up a painful lack of sensitivity and awareness on the part of the University…We did not do so with malice, or with the intent to defile a racial group. Rather, it was a reflection of society’s (limited) understanding, dulled perception and clouded vision. Sensitivity and awareness do not come easily when childish misrepresentations in games, history books and motion pictures make up a large part of our experience.”
The year was 1972 when the Stanford Indian was forever removed as the school’s mascot. Close to 50 years ago. And it’s taken that long for some of the professional sports organizations themselves to finally announce an internal review of their team name – after significant corporate pressure, no less.
If you missed it this week, the Washington Redskins are reviewing their team name after many sponsors, including Nike and FedEx, asked them to change it. It’s quite the change for a team owned by Dan Snyder, who said in 2013 that they’d NEVER change the team name. It was followed by the Cleveland Indians releasing a statement, committing to “engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.”
Just last year, the Indians finally stopped using the “Chief Wahoo” logo on their uniforms – a cartoon caricature that had a number of iterations throughout the years. Take a closer look. In fact, here’s what manager Terry Francona said about the team name earlier today.
“I know in the past when I’ve been asked about whether it’s our name or the Chief Wahoo, I think I would usually answer and say ‘I know that we’re never trying to be disrespectful,’ and I still feel that way” Francona said. “But I don’t think that’s a good enough answer today. You know, even at my age, you don’t want to be too old to learn or to realize that maybe I’ve been ignorant of some things. And to be ashamed of it. And to try to be better.”
I admit that right now especially, many feel a general fatigue over political correctness and whether this or that is offensive. But this topic has been argued for more than 50 years with very gradual change at the collegiate level, including the Seattle U Chieftains name change to the Redhawks in 2000, but very little change in pro sports.
What Francona is admitting is frankly what I’m admitting in a sense tonight as well. We didn’t suddenly become “woke” to this issue overnight. We’re simply guilty of being aware of the controversy, and brushing it off in favor of status quo, while the effected parties continue suffer with what many believe are racist and offensive representations of their own race.
The simple question is: Is tradition itself more important than what a race of people believe to be offensive?
When a petition 48 years ago argued that an Indian mascot in all its manifestations was a “stereotypical, offensive and a mockery of Indian cultures,” and grotesquely ignorant, one university listened, and made the change. Did everyone understand? No. Were a lot of people, including alumni, upset? Yes.
But looking back on that change now, was it the right choice? Absolutely.
There are other teams in pro sports other than the Redskins and Indians having to take a much harder look at their names right now and ask themselves if it’s all really worth it.
They should already know the answer.