Major League Baseball has released the designs for the batting practice caps to be worn by its 30 teams in the 2013 season, and one in particular is raising eyebrows.
A logo from the Atlanta Braves' past, known as the "Screaming Indian" or "Screaming Savage," has returned. The image has not been seen on Braves' players gear since it was retired in 1989. The Screaming Savage was considered one of the most offensive Native caricatures in sports, and for many Natives its retirement seemed a victory in the fight against stereotypes in pop culture. When the Braves brought back a replica of their 1966 uniform prior to the 2012 season, the outfit was nearly identical to its predecessor with one obvious exception: The Screaming Indian on the jersey sleeve had been replaced by two crossed tomahawks.
For Natives, this seemed confirmation that the caricature was a thing of the past, and for dyed-in-the-wool Braves fans it was a terrible concession to the scourge of political correctness.
"Call me a traditionalist or maybe just a longtime fan, but I miss that old screaming Indian," wrote one wistful sports journalist. "I miss Chief Noc-a-Homa. I miss him doing the dance on the mound before the game, blowing fire and taking off in a sprint to his teepee. And yes, I miss seeing that teepee in left field."
For those who miss such things, and who will probably never give up the Tomahawk Chop, there's reason to cheer the return of the Screaming Indian (sometimes called "Chief Noc-a-Homa," although that name is more closely associated with the flesh-and-blood mascot who performed at games).
But for Natives, and much of the sportswriting/blogging world, seeing the logo again in use is very disappointing. That's the word used by Paul Lukas of Uni-Watch.com, who is probably the foremost scribe on professional athlete apparel, in his ESPN review: "Unfortunately, it turns out that the logo hasn't been permanently mothballed. Disappointing. Grade: F"
Others had similar reactions:
"Perhaps ownership was sick and tired of the Washington Redskins and their culturally insensitive name remaining the most offensive rendition of Native American culture in this country," wrote Timothy Rapp of Bleacher Report. He added, "Atlanta should retract these hats immediately. The organization is better than this."
In a post tagged "racism," Tom Ley of Deadspin described the logo as an Indian "captured here in mid-shriek as he watches either a Braves home run or the forcible uprooting and assimilation of his culture."
Dylan Murphy of SportsGrid presents some pro and con Twitter reactions, but concludes that "No matter how the Braves PR department tries to spin it, the logo is racist – it’s just a screaming Native American head, emphasizing stereotypes and the emotional simplicity of a people."
But what's next? There is plenty of time bofore the 2013 season starts, and the organization could, as Timothy Rapp suggested, scrap the hats. But will they?
The Braves organization has a choice — the same choice it has always had: Either pay attention to the many who decry the images as racist, as the NCAA has done, or tell these people to stuff it, as Daniel Snyder's Redskins organization has chosen to do. The former road is the one that, like it or not, all sports teams are destined to take, and the road that the Braves seemed to be on. But now logo- and mascot-watchers must wonder whether the progress made in 1989 and earlier in 2012 was all for naught.