Class acts (or maybe not)

Joba Chamberlain, the Yankee whose fastball actually gets frayed stitching from air friction, and Jacoby Ellsbury, one of Boston’s stellar rookies, are Native Americans. I’m quite curious to know how they take having the Indians’ repulsive little logo put in their face in the playoffs. Come to think of it, aren’t a lot of the Latino players throughout the majors probably descended from Indians, given their home countries’ history? Cryptomundo noticed this a week ago, and Thursday Vernon Bellecourt died, reminding me of the dispute over team names and mascots.

Do Chamberlain and Ellsbury have some duty to speak up (either way, of course) in this situation? Or a duty, if offended, to bite their tongues and show they’re bigger than casual racism? Jackie Robinson was much lauded in his early career for a refusal to answer hate with manifest offense, behavior that could be criticized as doormattery or praised as dignity. Probably not a duty either way (I’m not at all sure about this) but I would admire them if they spoke out.

In the Indians’ case, is their problem the name or just art criticism? If calling the Notre Dame team the “Fighting Irish” is OK, not to mention Celtics and Yankees, Indians must be OK, too, right? “Altoona Jews” is too weird to contemplate (why?), but I guess not objectionable where Yids or Kikes would be. Similarly for a Cleveland Squaws field hockey team, and Notre Dame is not about to go forth as the Micks. (It ought to count for a lot if a fair number of Native Americans really dislike calling teams Indians and Seminoles and Illini and such, but I don’t think well-intentioned discourse is subject to a veto by anyone who claims offense. Also I note that the ND teams actually were heavily Irish-American when the name was given; a self-descriptive team name is quite different from one that points at a group who has nothing to do with you.)

The problem with the Indians, I think, is the logo (in effect, a pejorative non-verbal name), not the name; it’s the same thing that sank Little Black Sambo and as offensive as Injun or Redskin (nb, DC fans). Sambo was actually the hero of his story who outwitted a tiger, but the illustrations of the book were a Golliwog stereotype whose historic association with the vilest racism made the whole work an anathema. The Indians’ logo is in the same cartoon tradition; it could just as well be a feather, an arrowhead, or a canoe for team identification purposes, and the persistence of the team management in putting this reminder of historic bad behavior all over their uniforms and publicity is just public rudeness.

Actually, I think Chamberlain and Ellsbury’s whole teams should have been in the commissioner’s office in the early spring (better late than never), warning that they would not take the field against Cleveland until this revolting behavior was cleaned up, with duct tape if necessary pending new uniform acquisition. It’s not in the canon of sport that you have to be insulted to your face to play baseball.

Now, is the Seahawks’ adoption of the graphic language of the Northwest tribes in their neighborhood a compliment, or a ripoff, or disrespect? In general I favor artistic cultural exchange and borrowing (without it I wouldn’t have any of my favorite music) but I may be missing something here.

Afterthought: OK, being insulted to your face is part of the deal in sports, at least in sports among males. But the rules for this kind of insult/trash-talking are quite elaborate and subtle. You can tease almost any batter with yells of “no hitter, easy out”, but not one of the two legitimately worst batters in the club. Indeed, without this culture of carefully blunted insult, male society would probably grind to a halt because it is the discourse of affection. You do have to be generally tolerant of things blurted out carelessly. However, you don’t have to stand still for insults based on your ethnic or racial identity, or sexual identification, except when offered from a member of the same group, when they automatically take on a flavor of affection and bonding.

The foregoing are exceptions that prove, if not a rule, certainly the unacceptability of those caps. Nobody blurts out something in thousands of copies printed over years on programs and uniforms; it’s absolutely fair game for the politically correct police and sincere offense-takers.

A reader has found an Indiana bill passed unanimously by its house but sunk in the senate in 1897 wherein pi is 3.2

and a bunch of other awkward ratios are similarly tidied up.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.