Native American Journalists Association Calls for Ethical Reporting on Cleveland Baseball Team

Robert Roche, executive director of Cleveland American Indian Eduction Center, confronts fake Indian outisde Progressive Field. Photo Credit: Twitter

Robert Roche, executive director of Cleveland American Indian Eduction Center, confronts fake Indian outisde Progressive Field. Photo Credit: Twitter

Published October 26, 2016

NORMAN, OKLAHOMA – The Major League Baseball World Series is underway, and we congratulate the teams from Cleveland and Chicago for their performance and the example they have set for their peers. Yet there is still another example to be set.

The Native American Journalists Association calls on media professionals and others in the sports industry to eliminate the use of Native American-themed mascots and imagery.

We believe that the Cleveland team’s “Chief Wahoo” logo, in conjunction with its name, perpetuates a stereotype based on the race and ethnic identity of Native people. It is dehumanizing imagery that leads to dehumanizing actions against Native people, and its continued use by mainstream and sports media is wholly unethical.

NAJA adheres to the ethical code prescribed by the Society of Professional Journalists, and urges journalists to exercise careful consideration before publishing racist and derogatory imagery.

  • Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.
  • Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.
  • Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication. Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate.

The American Psychological Association has called for the permanent discontinuance of Native American mascots based on a growing body of scientific research. The conclusion was that American Indian mascots, symbols and imagery have negative effects on Native and non-Native students by presenting stereotypical images of Native Americans, undermining the ability of tribal citizens to portray accurate and respectful images of their culture, and serve as a form of discrimination that can lead to negative relations between groups.

Baseball is said to be “America’s pastime,” and has often served as an inflection point on forces at play in greater society including race relations. In fact, Native American baseball players have been instrumental in the history of racial integration of baseball. From the first Native player, Louis Sockalexis (Penobscot), who debuted in the Spring of 1897, to modern day stars Jacoby Ellsbury (Navajo) and Joba Chamberlain (Winnebago), Native players have been an important part of the fabric of our nation’s baseball tradition.

It’s unfortunate that the Cleveland team has not found a way to honor these contributions to the sport, but instead have employed and propagated derogatory imagery that is demeaning and harmful.

It is our recommendation that sports journalists and media organizations adopt a culturally sensitive policy that refers to the Cleveland MLB team by the city name and league only and eliminates the use of the “Chief Wahoo” logo. This policy satisfies the ethical requirement for accuracy while omitting the harmful and stereotypical imagery.

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