It’s hard to believe, but former President Donald Trump is now a self-appointed protector of America’s heritage and an enemy of crazy ideas.
Trump, you see, is going to bat for the doomed Cleveland Indians. He regards the big-league club as a victim of politically correct zealots.
“Can anybody believe that the Cleveland Indians, a storied and cherished baseball franchise since taking the name in 1915, are changing their name to the Guardians? Such a disgrace, and I guarantee that the people who are most angry about it are the many Indians of our Country,” Trump wrote in an email distributed by his Save America PAC.
Trump blamed a few others besides the Cleveland team’s owners.
“A small group of people, with absolutely crazy ideas and policies, is forcing these changes to destroy our culture and heritage,” he wrote.
Trump’s complaint almost sounds like a sardonic account from the Onion, especially the part about his having the pulse of American Indians, as though they are monolithic.
It’s a lock that Trump never discussed his affinity for the Cleveland Indians with Santa Fe artist Charlene Teters.
A member of the Spokane Tribe and a retired dean of Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts, Teters tried for three decades to change the Cleveland team’s mascot. She also challenged universities and other professional teams whose mascots were based on caricatures of Indians.
The starting point for Teters came on a winter night in the 1980s. She took her two children to a basketball game at the University of Illinois, where she was a graduate student in art.
Chief Illiniwek, the team mascot in feathers and fringe, paraded onto the court and broke into a dance.
“I saw my daughter try to become invisible. My son tried to laugh,” Teters said in Jay Rosenstein’s 1997 documentary In Whose Honor?
With two declarative sentences, Teters caused many to question the purpose of a garish mascot purporting to be an Indian warrior.
Early on, a university chancellor vouched for Chief Illiniwek but ordered cheerleaders to stop wearing warpaint. Trustees of the University of Illinois stood by their mascot until 2007, when they sidelined the controversial chief.
Even that was a partial victory for Teters. Merchandise featuring Chief Illiniwek remained on sale years later, as the university made the logo available to a private company.
Until that basketball game with her kids, Teters didn’t intend to lead a social movement. She told Rosenstein she did it in the interest of history.
“The fact that we even have anything today speaks to the strength of our ancestors, and that’s what I am protecting,” she said.
Teters drew national attention in Cleveland when Major League Baseball’s top talent arrived for the All-star game in 1997. Her primary complaint was about Chief Wahoo, then the Indians mascot.
“We call him Little Red Sambo,” Teters said.
All-Star games always draw the national news corps, and that one was especially well-attended. The Cleveland team had opened its majestic downtown ballpark three years earlier, but many reporters still hadn’t seen it.
What civic boosters hoped would be a festival of favorable publicity took a detour. Teters and others complained about Chief Wahoo depicting Indians as cartoon characters.
With his ruby-red complexion and picket-fence teeth, Chief Wahoo had been around since the 1940s. Some believed he would never be displaced.
But the Cleveland team removed the chief from its caps and jerseys in 2019. Teters persisted, saying the nickname Indians should also be retired.
As a founding member of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media, she had plenty of critics. They said she captained the political correctness squad.
Teters stuck with her cause. The Washington Redskins were always high on her list of wrongheaded team names.
The football team’s principal owner, Daniel Snyder, promised he would never drop the name Redskins. He reversed himself last year after corporate sponsors rebelled against him.
Now known as the Washington Football Team, Snyder’s club plans to choose a new mascot next year.
There’s a ripple effect to all this. After Snyder folded, the board of the Cobre Consolidated School District in southwestern New Mexico retired Redskins as the mascot of Snell Middle School. Its teams are now the Miners.
Trump wonders what America is descending to with the advent of the Cleveland Guardians. This from a onetime commander-in-chief who dawdled when he should have stopped the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol — an insurgence intended to block Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.
It’s been a tough year for Trump. The Capitol survived, and the Cleveland Indians are fading away.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at email@example.com or 505-986-3080.