Jurkovac Examines Cleveland Indians and Symbols
As summer fades into fall, the Cleveland Indians are battling to regain the American League title and hopefully a World Series championship too; however, Bowling Green State University Firelands College’s associate professor of sociology Tim Jurkovac has been researching a completely different kind of battle in Cleveland.
Born and raised in Northern Ohio, Jurkovac is an avid fan and follower of the Cleveland Indians and baseball in general; but more recently he has taken interest in the Cleveland Indians’ utilization of Native American imagery and the controversy surrounding the issue.
“The Cleveland Indians remain one of the few professional sports franchises to appropriate Native American imagery,” said Jurkovac in reference to the Chief Wahoo logo.
As a child, Jurkovac felt Chief Wahoo was just silly, but now he understands the implications are far more serious.
“Many believe Chief Wahoo is offensive and it trivializes the culture and experiences of Native Americans,” said Jurkovac who often incorporates baseball themes into his popular Sociology of Sports course.
According to Jurkovac, both the team name and Chief Wahoo continue to elicit protest from Native American groups and professional organizations such as the American Sociological Association and the American Psychological Association, but little has changed beyond the minimalist solution of occasionally replacing Chief Wahoo on the hats in favor of the Block C.
In a release last year, team officials said,” We are very cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the conversation — our fans' deep, long-lasting attachment to the memories associated with Chief Wahoo and those who are opposed to its use.”
Jurkovac believes the team remains on the wrong side of this ongoing debate.
While team officials at times seem to be apathetic to the issue, community response to the debate varies greatly with passionate supports on both sides. Protestors can often be found outside the stadium on game days, however, Jurkovac points out that sales of merchandise with the Chief Wahoo logo surpass sales of merchandise with the Block C or other images.
Jurkovac believes there is a feasible solution and he presented his research this summer at the 29th Annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture in New York. His research, titled Symbols Matter: It’s Time for the Cleveland Indians to Retire the Franchise Name and Logo, was well accepted.
The Symposium is widely accepted as the most prestigious conference in the nation on the subject matter and this marks Jurkovac’s second presentation at the conference. In 2012 he attended the Symposium to share his research paper Celebrating Nostalgia, Legalizing Extortion and Subsidizing Greed: The Hegemony of the Retro Ballpark, which shed a revealing light onto the sinister side of the construction of new ballparks.
Within his current research, Jurkovac compares the events which transpired in 2016 at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota to underscore his position on the use of Chief Wahoo by the Cleveland Indians.
“What linked a summer of celebration in Cleveland to one of confrontation in the Dakota badlands was a convergence of cultural appropriation and racial disenfranchisement that were by no means mutually exclusive. Each narrative illustrates the ongoing assault on native peoples over the past four centuries, a brutal history of colonialization, broken treaties, disease and war that the team and the country continue to ignore,” said Jurkovac.
Jurkovac believes past debates on the topic have done little to offer solutions; however, he presents one which he believes would satisfy both sides of the debate.
“The franchise can opt to no longer align themselves with social injustice while still preserving their history by changing the franchise name to the Cleveland Tribe and permanently retiring Chief Wahoo in favor or the current Block C,” said Jurkovac.
According to Jurkovac, fans, media and the baseball community already acknowledge this name and make use of it when referencing the team (e.g., “It’s Tribe time!”).
While acknowledging that this may not be the ideal solution, Jurkovac believes his beloved Cleveland Indians could become a mechanism of hope and change rather than perpetuating centuries old social injustices.
“Perhaps, just perhaps, a resolution such as this could help launch in some meaningful way a more sincere and thoughtful discourse about the substantive issues of systemic poverty, alienation and injustice still rampant in countless Native American communities,” said Jurkovac.