Column: Turkeyman - Feb. 1 - Making up for a lot of lost time

Posted by: MBR on Mon Dec 21st, 2020 4:01 am

All in the name

 Ed Rice was probably a happy man last Monday. A story in the New York Times told us that Cleveland`s major league baseball team was dropping the name "Indians." 

 Ed, who lives in eastern Maine, has been campaigning for decades, yes decades, for the Clevelanders to change names. In 2000, he published a biography of Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot from Old Town who played brilliantly but briefly for the Clevelanders.

 In fact, the official version is that the Cleveland team was named "Indians" after him. Ed disputes that version. The story reminded me that last summer the Washington Football Club dropped its nickname, with no new one, for now. Cleveland will change in 2022.

 The march of political correctness in sports has taken many twists, good and bad. My friend Steve Solloway, whose Press Herald column was reason enough to pony up a buck for the paper whenever I was in Portland, showed me the distinctions we should make.

 Wells High School was for decades the Wells Warriors. It is still the Wells Warriors, and it may be the poster child for how to deal with naming issues. The school board simply dropped all the symbolism that went with "Warriors." No more feather headdress, no more spear, arrow or Indian-head caricature.

 "Warriors," after all, come from all cultures. Without that logo, who`s to say "Warriors" from Wells don`t honor warriors of ancient Greece or warriors of the Ghanaian kingdom or warriors of China memorialized by terra cotta statues 2,200 years old? "Warriors," in time, will become generalized and mean only those who play for a high school in Wells.

 Others have changed names, too. Miami University (Ohio) was the "Redskins." As were Washington`s footballers. St. John`s University was "Redmen," the University of North Dakota was "Fighting Sioux," Central Michigan University the "Chippewas" and Skowhegan Area High School the "Indians." And so on. 

 As best I can find, most transitions were smooth. Some, such as Miami, were initiated by students, and Miami became the "RedHawks." St. John`s shift seems to have come from administrators, and St, John`s became the "Red Storm." For others, the change has been tough and slow to come, as with Washington and Skowhegan. And now Cleveland.

 Indigenous Americans started asking the MSAD 54 school board years ago to drop the name "Indians" from Skowhegan High. The board was always split, but over the years, the vote to change gradually overtook the vote to stand pat. 

 Two things made settlement difficult in Skowhegan. First, the town symbol is the "Big Indian," a 62-foot wooden sculpture by Bernard Langlais. The sign beside the statue downtown says Langlais, born in Old Town, made it to honor the Wabanaki of the area. 

 As the contention went on, both sides dug in. It became winner-take-all. Rather than  get rid of offensive symbols and keep the name "Indians," the board painted itself into a corner and in 2019 voted to drop all links to "Indians." Later it adopted RiverHawks." 

 An aside. "Indians" was never an easy call for me. Partly because two men whom I ddin`t know told me, at separate times, that they were "Indian" and did not object to the word. Both said they lived in MSAD 54, and one said, "Call me an Indian. That`s what I am."

 Sometimes, the change came without asking. After the NCAA banned Indian names and symbols, at least one Lakota band gave its blessing to UND keeping "Fighting Sioux." But the NCAA and school administration ruled, so UND became the "Fighting Hawks." 

 Florida State was allowed to keep its "Seminole" moniker when the Seminole Tribe in 2005 endorsed its use. The tribe and FSU have a consulting arrangement, so any change in the name or symbol will be worked out beforehand. Same with CMU and the Saginaw Chippewa tribe, who agreed in 2002 to cooperate on the use of the name and symbols. I watched the Chippewa women`s basketball team the other day. I saw no negative symbol, though the logo coloring and design strongly suggested an American Indian theme. 

 Some teams have changed but maybe have work still to do. A friend at church, a full-blooded Lakota, gets upset whenever I mention the Kansas City Chiefs. He finds the symbolism negative. The Super Bowl champs play in Arrowhead Stadium, and their logo is an arrowhead with an interlaced KC inside it. Years ago, they had a grotesque looking Indian logo, a mascot dressed as an aboriginal who rode a pinto named "Warpaint." The chant and the tomahawk chop were part of the ritual. Nowadays, only the stadium name and arrowhead logo remain, and a cheerleader named Susie rides a pony.  

 Kansas City may have a hard time abandoning all Indian references. The word "chief" is too often used in other contexts. Maxwell Smart`s boss on "Get Smart" was known only as "chief." Corporations are full of chief this and chief that, chief operating officer, chief executive officer, chief financial officer. What could "Chiefs" mean in KC if not Indians?

 Now, Cleveland has set the wheels in motion to decide on its new name. Maybe it can go back to the "Spiders," the name under which Sockalexis played from 1897 through 1899. 

 Want to think more on this topic? The indigenous historian Vine Deloria Jr. said, “Before the white man can relate to others, he must forgo the pleasure of defining them.” Mull that.

 Bob Neal noticed that during the Chiefs` victory parade in February, Patrick Mahomes started a tomahawk chop, thought better of it and swigged a beer instead. Smart choice. 

Column:Turkeyman - Feb. 1

Making up for a lot of lost time

By Bob Neal

  Before there was basketball, for me, there was baseball. 

  The lore, the history, of the game have long been a huge part of baseball`s allure to most  fans. The record books are must reading for the truest fans. Now, in a step that almost no one foresaw, Major League Baseball has decided to include as major-league a body of baseball records that it willfully ignored for a century.

  On Dec. 16, baseball announced it will add to the record books all known records of the Negro National League. `Bout time, say many of the game`s most serious fans. Whoa, Nellie say others, good as some of those players were, they weren`t really major league. 

  So, I ask, Whose fault is that? and, What can be done about it? 

  The denial of major-league status for black baseball players came directly from big-time whites. Cap Anson, a first baseman for the Chicago Cubs and later a manager and part-owner, made an early and direct assault on black players, refusing  to take the field with them. Anson, an Iowan, entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1939, the 19th year after black players had formed their own league.  

  Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a Swiss Mennonite from Illinois and the first baseball commissioner, could have used his nearly absolute power to reintegrate MLB. He didn`t. He was voted into the Hall of Fame two weeks after he died, in 1944.

  As Tom Boswell put it in The Washington Post a couple of weeks ago, "When I type the name `Josh Gibson` into baseball-reference, I get . . . `Josh Booty, given name, Joshua Gibson,` who played for the Florida Marlins" (1996-98). "Only if I know where to click, can I dig up `Josh Gibson, Hall of Fame.` But no stats of his career."

  The expansion of the records doesn`t make up for 60 years of keeping black players out of the box. But it may be the best atonement Major League Baseball can make. As Bob Kendrick, director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, put it, this is "validation for those who had been shunned from the Major Leagues and had the foresight and courage to create their own league that helped change the game, and the country, too.”

  So now, Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige will have statistics to support their greatness that for the most part only white players have had. And 3,400 Negro League players, of whom almost all of us white fans know just about nothing, will be enshrined in the records, and maybe some of them in Cooperstown.

  Anyone living in Kansas City in the `60s knew about Satchel Paige. Most knew he was a deputy sheriff. He was still long, lanky and limber. I know because as a young married man, I met Paige. In 1966, the retail clerks union met to vote on honoring a meat cutters` strike. As we left the hall, two rows of deputies lined the sidewalk, and one deputy`s badge read, "Leroy Paige." I got to shake his hand.

  When I got home, I told my young (now late) wife that I had met Satchel Paige. Then I told her we were going out on strike.

  Three years later, I envied my wife for the first time. She and I were in school at UMKC, and she announced one January night at supper that she had got a part-time job. She would be a publicity aide for the new Kansas City Royals, working at the Municipal Stadium. She worked for (the late) Bob Wirz, who later took over publicity for the (boo-hiss) Yankees and after that for MLB itself. A real gentleman. 

  Man, I loved to lord it over my buddies that Marilyn and I sat in the box of the owner, Ewing Kauffman. The owner`s box was about 30 feet behind home plate. Suhhhweet. 

  She worked there until we left for graduate school at Vanderbilt.

  So, when the Royals won the World Series in 2015, we rode out to Kansas City. I told people that I just had to see the World Series banners flying on Grand Boulevard. I did, and they were gorgeous. Just gawjious. That trip included my first visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. And it was Marilyn`s last trip back to Kansas City. 

  The Royals blue World Series banners aren`t flying on Grand Boulevard any longer. They`ve been replaced by red banners emblazoned with arrowheads. In six days, we`ll know whether the red ones get to fly for another year. (How `bout those Chieeefs!)

  If you`re not planning to go to Kansas City, you can always change plans. The Negro Leagues Museum alone is worth the trip. And you can eat Kansas City (that is, real) Bar BQ the whole time you`re there. As the conductor on Amtrak Train No. 3 announces on crossing the Missouri River at Sibley, "Welcome to the BarBQ capital of the world."

  I never felt history more keenly than when, at the Negro Leagues Museum, I put myself on the field, literally, with the stars. On a miniaturized diamond, at each position, stands a nearly life-size bronze of one or another Negro League star. I can stand at shortstop and for a moment be an old, white Judy Johnson, walk to the outfield and be Cool Papa Bell. Back to the infield to become Josh Gibson behind the plate. Finish the fantasy, of course, on the mound standing beside, while pretending to be, Satchel Paige.

  It is called the Field of Legends for a reason.

  Bob Neal and Bob Kendrick are alums of The Kansas City Star but haven`t met. Next time he`s in Kansas City, Neal will visit the museum for the third time and meet Kendrick.