Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Team Mascots

If I could find a picture of William Carlos Williams on horseback, carrying a pen like a sabre, he could be this blog's mascot. Or even better, the illustration that Mikhail Horowitz used in his book "Big League Poets" that showed Richard Brautigan in a vintage baseball uniform.

Joe Posnanski has been mentioned several times here and you'll find a link to his blog on the right. He's an award-winning sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, but his blog is entirely his own.

He's written a few entries about growing up near Cleveland and being a life-long fan of Cleveland sports teams. His recollection of the crazy first owner of the Cavaliers is hilarious.

Then he went and got all serious about the embarrassment that is Chief Wahoo, the cartoon logo of the Cleveland Indians. He got a lot of support for the idea that it's time to retire the logo, and he also got a lot of crap.

My mother -- Maria Salvatrice Regina Vigneri -- grew up in Baltimore, in a section that was then mostly Italian immigrants. The neighborhood is still known as Baltimore's 'little Italy' (Albemarle Street and Normal Avenue). She told us stories of being spit at and called names like wop and dago. After reading Mr. Posnanski's take on the Chief Wahoo question, I wondered how my mother might have felt if there had been a team called the Baltimore Italianos, with a grinning mobster for a logo. The Italiano name wouldn't be so bad (it could even be interpreted as an honor), but the cartoon logo -- I don't think so.

Chief Wahoo is demeaning. At least Chief Illiniwek (at the University of Illinois, where I used to work) was not so much of a caricature, and the logo of the Fighting Sioux seems respectful (at least compared to Chief Wahoo).

Symbols matter, even on something as superficially trivial as a sports team.

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