Fans of the old TV show “Taxi” might remember an episode in which Bobby quit the garage because he’d gotten his big break on a soap opera, only to be forced to return as a cabbie after his character was unexpectedly killed off.
His manager, Louie, was all fired up to rub Bobby’s humiliation in his face when he returned, but Alex stopped him.
When Louie asked Alex why he shouldn’t release a barrage of offensive comments, Alex responded simply by saying, “Because you shouldn’t.”
There are certain things we don’t do to one another because those actions are offensive. Because they hurt other people. Because some people — maybe not all but some — will find what you’re doing inappropriate or disrespectful or hurtful to them.
It’s what we learn as children. Don’t hit, steal or lie. It’s what medical doctors consider before treating a patient: First do no harm. It’s the basic difference between right and wrong.
The onus shouldn’t be on the people who are offended to provide others with a reason not to do something they might find offensive. The burden should be on the people who are doing or considering the offensive act.
In those cases, when asked why you shouldn’t do something, no other answer is needed than “Because you shouldn’t.”
So when sports teams at all levels, including school districts, that bear Native American monikers ask why they shouldn’t keep their tradition and history by retaining those names that some find offensive, the answer is clear.
And it’s for that reason that school districts need to move forward with the transition to non-Native American names for their sports teams and clubs.
In major league sports, the movement has been slow to catch on. But it is happening, slowly.
Earlier this year, the former Washington Redskins NFL football team dropped its traditional Indian name in favor of the generic Washington Football Team while it comes up with a new name. And earlier this month, the Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball team decided that, after 105 years, it would no longer be named “the Indians” starting in 2021.
The decision came after extensive conversations with Native American groups, civil rights organizations and others about retaining the name.
In the end, team owner and chairman Paul Dolan concluded that it was simply wrong to continue with it.
“Hearing firsthand the stories and experiences of Native American people, we gained a deep understanding of how tribal communities feel about the team name and the detrimental effects it has on them. … It is time to move forward.”
In other words, the reason they shouldn’t keep the name is because they shouldn’t.
Of course, many people are upset at the name change, saying it was just a capitulation to political correctness and that it flies in the face of tradition to placate a few who might be offended. Not all Native Americans, they say, even find such names offensive.
President Trump even tweeted, “Oh no! What is going on? This is not good news, even for ‘Indians’. Cancel culture at work!”, as if he was personally offended because others might be personally offended.
The lesson projected by the Cleveland Indians decision should filter down to local schools that carry Native American nicknames and identities, since schools often use the same arguments for not making the change.
“It’s tradition.” “We’ve had the name for many years.” “No one is really knocking down our doors demanding change.” “The name actually honors Native Americans, not insults them.” “Who is really offended by this anyway?” Why do we have to give up our history to placate a handful of snowflakes?”
One answer is that times have changed.
In the days when teams and schools came up with these names, it was more socially acceptable to use them. As we’ve become more cognizant and understanding of the harmful impacts of such names, and of the detrimental effects they have on the individuals and these groups as a whole, we’ve come to realize that what’s socially acceptable isn’t necessarily right.
And we’ve moved to make changes.
That’s what this is about.
It’s about taking something that was wrong and making it right. It’s about doing the proper thing. It’s about educating ourselves and our children.
As the owner of the Cleveland baseball team said, it’s time to move forward.
We understand that changes can’t come immediately, especially for the school teams.
Football helmets and team uniforms cost money to replace. New building signs and basketball court logos cost money.
And we understand that it might take some time to convince members of the school community to accept the changes, particularly those whose identities are closely tied to athletics. Traditions do not fall easily.
But think about it. Does changing the name of your 1950s championship team in 2020 in any way taint or diminish your accomplishments and those of your teammates and school?
School districts with Native American names should immediately and actively begin to phase them out.
They can start cheaply by painting over signs on the school walls and sports fields. They can have student contests to come up with new names and new mascots, maybe those that more accurately and respectfully reflect their school traditions or community identities. They can drop old cheers and come up with new ways to celebrate their teams’ victories.
In a short period of time, people will come to accept the new identities and embrace the new traditions.
And in doing so, the schools will have demonstrated respect for our Native American culture, and shown compassion and understanding for their plight.
Why shouldn’t they retain these offensive, insulting and hurtful identities?
The answer is simple.
Because they shouldn’t.