Here we are in Spokane, WA, where just last month a bar was protested for naming one of their drinks “Date Grape”. Classy. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the local Class-A Short Season baseball team, the Spokane Indians, are not down with all this “change your nickname because it’s culturally insensitive” talk.
But being a Minor League Baseball team, which is by definition a business that walks a daily tightrope financially, the Indians have to at least look like they’re sensitive to such things. So they came up with what you see above: a jersey with the word “Spokane” in Salish script. That’s the language associated with the Interior Salish peoples of the inland Pacific Northwest. I wasn’t aware that Salish was a written language, so you learn something new every day.
Indians co-owner/senior advisor Andy Billig and senior vice president Otto Klein have both been with the team for more than two decades, and throughout the entirety of that time they’ve maintained an open dialogue with members of the local Spokane tribe. Their goal in doing so, simply stated, is to make sure they celebrate, rather than denigrate, the people their franchise purports to represent.
So it’s the old, ‘We’re actually honoring them’ argument, which Washington Deafskins (our spelling) owner Daniel Snyder uses time and again. Snyder has upped his game lately, by the way. See below:
Dan Snyder bought some Native Americans a bunch of coats and a backhoe so you can't call his team racist anymore http://t.co/EJCYtkcCOp
— Kissing Suzy Kolber (@KissMeSuzy) March 25, 2014
What Snyder and the Spokane Indians fail to get is that all of these efforts come off, to many, as superficial and insincere. Changing your branding hits you hard in the wallet, upsets much of your fan base and makes you seem weak. In Snyder’s case, it’s the latter point that stokes his stubbornness — he won’t change his team’s name until forced to do so by the league (and I predict that is coming, sooner rather than later).
The case of the Spokane Indians is a little harder to read. It’s unclear whether there’s any significant faction who want a name change there. But even if there isn’t, it’s the right thing to do. If they were the Spokane Japs, would spelling the name on the jersey in Japanese make any difference?