All about the Braves and baseball events.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

In Defense of the "Laughing Indian" Logo

Sometime during the past couple of weeks, Major League Baseball and New Era released some concept pictures of teams' new batting practice caps for the 2013 season.  It's naturally a money-making venture, but this year showed some creativity in design and logo choices.  I personally like the Astros and A's the best out of the group.

But one potential cap logo has a bunch of knickers in a twist: the Braves are planning the return of their classic Indian head logo by featuring it on the cap.

It was immediately treated by some like they're sticking a Nazi swastika on their hat.

In today's world, Native American-inspired nicknames, logos and mascots are frowned on and discouraged because of perceived bigotry or racism.  The Braves are one of the teams that regularly have had to deal with this phenomenon, thanks to adopting the practice of Florida State University fans and their Tomahawk Chop chant and cheer during the 1991 season.  Ironically, this was a year after they discontinued the use of the Indian head logo.

The logo first appeared on the sleeves of Milwaukee Braves jerseys back in 1957. 

That just happened to be the year that the "Bushville" team won the World Series, and the logo was briefly adorned with a championship crown, which was common at the time:

 It remained on the sleeve until 1972, when the Braves switched to the more colorful, softball-style uniform, which Hank Aaron made famous when breaking Babe Ruth's career home run record dressed in the duds.

The Indian head remained on the Braves' main logo, changed to white with a red outline motif:

 The team kept it in 1987, needing only to change the Braves font and color of the base:

In 1991, the team decided to change to the logo they currently have today: the team name and tomahawk that they had featured on the front of their home uniform for the past four seasons.

I don't claim to be completely knowledgeable about how long some people have been upset at this logo or general depictions of Native Americans.  I can only speak to my own experiences.  Most of my experiences as a Braves fan dealing with outside backlash come exclusively from the Tomahawk Chop.

What I think is necessary now is standing up for this logo and attempting to inject some common sense.

It is simply a picture, nothing more than a piece of art meant to represent something.  In this case, it is meant to represent a baseball team: a group of athletes so good at the game of baseball that they are paid to do it for a living.  The American culture has long celebrated the virtues of professional athletics, believing hard work, perseverance and working to help your teammates to be praised and worthy of emulation.

Because so much attention is paid to sports, people also try to delve deeper into its meanings and significance.  When Native Americans are inserted with team logos and nicknames, past history is sometimes mentioned. 

It is a truly sad and unnecessary history that, to a degree, continues to effect today's world.  It is a history that I won't repeat here, but it is one that I accept and understand

 I was taught to treat all people with respect and kindness, to treat others as I would want to be treated.  Over the course of my life, I learned truths about other cultures and their histories which helps me understand them better.  Those times were educational and have stayed with me today.

What I don't understand is why the severely negative things have to constantly be brought up in this context of sports.  Sports is where we try to escape all the bad stuff in the world.  It's where we take a little time to root our home team to victory.  We take joy in our boys' and girls' successes or feel for them in their defeats and suggest how they might improve themselves.  We endlessly debate at who is the best at their job performance and we deck ourselves out in the team colors and emblems, no matter what they may be, to support our team.  Nothing more. 

When someone brings the outside issues into sports, like with the general standing of Native Americans in North America, that means they associate sports depictions of Native Americans with mocking or belittling them and their culture, and making light of their problems and struggles.  That, I believe, is misplaced angst.

I'm incapable of looking at it that way when it comes to Indian logos, especially this one. 

I enjoy the logo very much and it usually conveys good, nostalgic feelings for me.  When I look at it, it reminds me of the days when I first became a Braves fan in 1991 and when I started collecting baseball cards.  I specifically recall this card:

Francisco Cabrera in a rare moment when he played first base.  It was one of my first cards when I seriously started collecting, gobbling up cheap packs of Donruss cards at the local Big Lots store.  On a good number the Braves cards I have, especially from the 1980s and 1990s, the laughing Indian logo is prominently featured.  One of the more interesting things that I acquired was a promotional Pizza Hut place mat, featuring Dale Murphy and Craig McMurtry, the WTBS Superstation 17 logo and, naturally, the team logo in the middle.

The photo is from an eBay auction, not from my personal collection.

The laughing Indian should convey joy and happiness, not angst, hatred or past violence.  Heck, when this cap situation first started, I actually realized thanks to a friend that the logo looks like Mr. T without a beard.  No one hates Mr. T!

The logo can't be eradicated, and it doesn't deserve our scorn.  Like the Blackhawks and Seminoles logos, it deserves to be seen as dignified and honorable, at the very least.

I've always seen it that way.  It's upsetting that others don't see it that positive way.

* * *

At first, I thought it might be hard to do this post; talking about something that even has a hint of race in the discussion is like walking a tightrope without a balancing pole.  Then I realized that's really all I can do: share my thoughts feelings on the subject.

If the Braves do end up believing that "any publicity is good publicity" and release the batting practice cap for sale, I will buy it to add it to my baseball cap collection and wear it proudly as part of my devotion to the Atlanta Braves baseball team and their storied history.

If anyone still believes the logo or current traditions of the Atlanta franchise is offensive, then all I can do is ask this: are we really so high-strung and uptight in our American society and culture today that we can't have a little good-natured fun without responses filled with lessons of past war, anger, or even threats?

It's a picture of a happy, laughing Indian man, designed to represent a team that plays the glorious American sport of baseball. 

That's all it is.