Following Game 2 of the 2019 National League Division Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta, Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley had some thoughts about SunTrust Park’s playoff atmosphere. Specifically, he took issue with the Tomahawk Chop chant and associated imagery. Atlanta eventually responded in toothless fashion by not putting out foam tomahawks for fans to wave and promising to not blast the Tomahawk Chop throughout the stadium when Helsey was pitching. Only when Helsey was pitching though, because racism isn’t the issue according to the Atlanta club, nope, it’s Helsey’s sensitivity that is the issue. But, he’s only sensitive when pitching, not while in the stadium and hearing that chant at other times.
This series of events again reminded us all that Atlanta is a racist franchise, Major League Baseball is a racist league, and Rob Manfred is, like every Commissioner before him, perfectly fine with racism as long as the money keeps rolling in. On a personal level, it reminded me that it was probably about time I get around to writing the article I’ve always had planned to explain the practice I take to counter racism. This is that article and serves as not just Words Above Replacement’s official policy on racism but my official policy on racism at any other site where my work is published.
This site’s policy on racism is clear, it’s not allowed. To that end, I have had a longstanding policy of not writing out racist team names or using racist imagery in anything I post. I may refer to Atlanta as the Atlanta Club, the National League Atlanta Club, or some other variation of the sort. The same policy applies to Cleveland, and to any team in any other league that I write about on this site or any other site. I won’t use the racist nickname, nor will I use any racist imagery associated with the team. That may be a mascot, a rallying phrase, etc.
I haven’t always had this policy, but the more confident I became in my writing the more I knew I wanted to adopt it. I have written one article on this site where I used racist nicknames. At the time I felt it was important to use the names to make my point about the importance of an affiliated team not using their parent club’s nickname as their own. I was wrong, I could have made my point without using the Syracuse Mets old team name. This does have consequences, namely in the fact that articles about these teams don’t show up in searches on the internet or my site because I don’t refer to them by their racist names nor do I use their racist names in the tags that accompany an article. That’s ok, no amount of clicks would make me want to use a racist nickname or image.
The one area I will ask for understanding is in foreign leagues and Negro Leagues. It’s sometimes harder to mete out what is a racist name in those leagues. The Indianapolis Clowns is by itself a racist team name, but Clowns players were quick to point out that the name was empowering for them. They felt that they were using racist tropes to get people to see that those tropes were wrong and that African-Americans could play baseball. Other Negro League players felt the opposite and viewed the Clowns moniker as deeply racist and unsettling. When it comes to foreign leagues I try to do my due diligence when it comes to researching a possible racist team nickname if I am writing about that team. I can’t claim to be tied into every foreign culture and that means that I may sometimes not realize a name is racist and let it slide through the cracks of the policy. There are also instances where it’s not entirely clear if a name is racist. Mexico has a much different history with its indigenous people than America does. In all my research I haven’t found one instance of Yaquis de Obregón being viewed as racist. None of the region’s history or that of the name points to it and its associated imagery as being anything more than a celebration of the important ties of the Yaqui tribe to the people of the Obregón region. There are gray areas with the policy and all I can promise you is that I will always do my best to research these areas and present them to you in the best manner possible.
I also write for Baseball Prospectus, and have pitched articles to and had them published at other sites and magazines. The policy extends to those places as well, and if any of those sites don’t agree with my stance then my solution is simple, I pull back the pitch or article and tell them thanks, but no thanks. This is an important part of my baseball identity and I’m not willing to sacrifice it for a few extra bucks in my bank account.
When it comes to clearly identifiable racism the policy I have is simple, I won’t partake in it. Maybe this stops some people from reading my work or checking out the site. Perhaps some of you who have been reading my site will move on to other things because you think it’s a dumb policy. That’s fine, you are certainly free to do as you wish. I’m just as free to make every effort to keep this site free of the racism that I think is a major stain on the history of the game of baseball. Except it’s also a stain on the present-day game of baseball and I refuse to engage in any furthering of that racism.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Deadspin