Jerry Howarth has been in this man’s game since 1981, when he became a radio broadcaster for the Toronto Blue Jays. Thirty-five years later he’s still at it, becoming one of the most venerable voices in the game. You’re probably familiar with Howard, but here’s something you may not have known: for the past 23 years he’s refused to say the words “Indians” or “Braves” on the air.
While the NFL has its “Redskins” change-the-name controversy up front and center every year, the MLB’s nickname controversy has pretty much taken a back seat. But in a lot of ways, the Chief Wahoo conundrum is just as current and divisive as its cousin in pro football. And it makes sense, seeing that the Cleveland nickname and logo, taken together, are probably the most controversial in American sports.
First conceived in 1932, given yellow skin by a teen designer hired by Bill Veek in 1947, and redesigned as a grinning, red-skinned brave in 1951, Chief Wahoo survives to this day, despite protests from Native American and other groups throughout the country. The Indians did demote him to “secondary mascot” in 2013, and removed the logo from some hats and uniforms.
Howarth himself didn’t think much of the controversy at all, until he got a letter from a fan in 1992.
He explained on the Jeff Blair Show on Tuesday:
“In the off-season, I received one of the best fan letters I have ever received,” Howarth said. The listener was a member of a First Nation in Ontario, Canada, and politely told Howard that he found such terms deeply offensive.
“He just wrote it in such a loving, kind way,” Howarth said. “He touched my heart.”
Howarth wrote back and told the man that from that day, he would never use the words “Indians” or “Braves” again.
“I made the decision to honor that fan and his culture.”
Here’s the Oct. 11 edition of the Jeff Blair Show, in which Howarth explains his stance on Native American nicknames in pro sports. The comments begin at the 11:55 mark.
Game 1 of the ALCS between Toronto and Cleveland begins on Friday.
I often wonder about talking heads on ESPN and other networks who use the word “Redskins” and “Braves” freely. Do they think of the controversy surrounding it at all? What’s in their hearts? Are they simply protecting their jobs?
Most probably don’t think it’s a big deal. But what if someone did? What if Bob Costas decided one day that he would never say “Indians” on the air? I’d love to see the repercussions.