Human Rights Complaint Against Chief Wahoo Upheld

Jun 23, 2017

By John F. Banzhaf III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
“Chief Wahoo,” the allegedly racist and derogatory symbol of the Cleveland Indians, is the subject of a complaint which was recently upheld by Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
While the legal ruling that the complaint is valid and that the agency has jurisdiction is only the first step, agency action could result in a ban on the use of the symbol – or even the name – at least in Canada, and even restrictions related to broadcasts.
This strengthens the case against the symbol which is already being made by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred who is reportedly pressuring the team to eliminate – or at least to greatly reduce the visibility of – a symbol he says many people find offensive and its use insensitive.
There has even been a suggestion that the team may be required to remove the logo from its uniforms as a condition of being able to host the 2019 All-Star Game.
The reason for all this opposition is simple. The complainant, famed native architect Douglas Cardinal, said: “Unfortunately, the consciousness of genocide and apartheid continues to be fostered by the insensitive use of demeaning and degrading symbols, mocking indigenous peoples.”
Another Native American summed it up simply: “We are people, not mascots, not logos, not imagery.”
To that end, a license renewal challenge was filed with the Federal Communication Commission [FCC] arguing that the use by broadcasters of the word r*dsk*ins – which some argue is as offensive for American Indians as the word n*gg*r is for African Americans – especially during times when children are watching, is as contrary to the public interest as using words like w*tb*ck, ch*nk, etc. would be for other ethnic groups.
Under federal law, broadcasters must operate in the public interest, and requests for renewal of their broadcast licenses can be denied if they fail. Because the filing came after the license had already been renewed, and because acting upon it would have required the Commission to make a controversial ruling breaking new ground, it was initially rejected at the staff level.
Physical violence against Native American children remains a very serious problem, and many believe that it is encouraged and exacerbated by the repeated broadcasting of racist words like r*dsk*ns, and of derogatory symbols with disparage them. Legal action will finally succeed where appeals to fairness and common decency haven’t yet been successful.
Banzhaf is Professor of Public Interest Law at the George Washington University Law School. He has spearheaded the use of legal action as a weapon against the use of names or symbols which are objectionable to some American Indians.


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