In March of 1916, a group of brave American pilots banded together to fight for the Allied cause as part of the French Air Force, over a year before America entered the war. They named their squadron the Lafayette Escadrille, in honor of the courageous French nobleman who did so much to help America gain its independence from Britain. But they chose as their insignia, the image they painted on their planes, not an image of Lafayette, but the profile of an American Indian warrior. These men, who risked death each time they climbed into a cockpit, hoped to emulate the indomitable courage they saw in the American Indian.
It would be deranged to suggest that "racism" was the motive for choosing the insignia of the Lafayette Escadrille, and so far as I know, no one has. But a similar decision made a year earlier in Cleveland is now routinely denounced as "racist," and such denunciations are likely to fill the opinion pages and the sports pages in the days ahead: in 1915, the American League team in Cleveland named itself the Indians, and in a few days the Indians will begin representing the American League in the World Series.
Of course, playing baseball requires far less courage than does flying in combat, but the Americans who named countless sports teams at all levels after American Indians had the same motives as the men of the Lafayette Escadrille. They found something to admire in Indians, and they hoped that the athletes representing their community or their school would embody those admirable traits on the playing field. Such names were bestowed as compliments, not insults, and many Indians still see them that way: a Washington Post poll of American Indians found that the overwhelming majority were not offended by the name of the Washington Redskins.
These facts have not deterred those who wish to erase this part of the American heritage. During the American League Championship Series, there were many articles lauding the sanctimonious refusal of the Toronto Blue Jays' radio announcer to call the Cleveland baseball team by its name. A lawsuit was even filed in Ontario to try to prevent the Indians from wearing uniforms using the word "Indians" or displaying the image of Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indians' logo that is far less fearsome than the image used by the Lafayette Escadrille. And the New York Times, in an article entitled "Battle Over Indians' Name and Logo Moves to the World Series," quoted the killjoy who filed the unsuccessful Ontario lawsuit as saying of the use of Indian sports names, "It is racist—that is all there is to it."
Needless to say, Cubs fans and Indians fans will continue to root for their respective teams during the World Series. But conservatives who don't follow either team may wish to consider countering the political assault on Cleveland's baseball team by adopting the Tribe as their own team for the duration of the Series. The guardians of political correctness will not be pleased. As for me, I will proudly be wearing my Chief Wahoo hat when I go to Game Two on Wednesday night. Let's Go Tribe!
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.