Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mascots and Design: part two

I am a big fan of design. I flirted with the idea of being a graphic designer back in college, but chickened out after convincing myself that I'd never be as talented as every other graphic designer who had ever made money at it. However, it has remained a curious hobby. Sports logos are an interesting thing, to me. And not just professional sports either. There is great potential to brand and market a team, organization, or school around a particular icon or theme. Sometimes I feel like this potential is wasted by schools and teams that just borrow from other more famous professional logos. I digress though.

Chris Creamer's Sports Logos is a huge internet database and online community devoted to logo design. They do a good job researching and categorizing sports logos, offering a pretty comprehensive history of sports iconography. I was pretty disheartened then, when I read this article about the Atlanta Braves decision to change the design of the BP baseball cap they were going to offer.

click me
That is the Screaming Indian, or Laughing Brave. In case you aren't up on your classic Major League Baseball mascots, it was retired and replaced by a tomahawk logo in 1966. For more about the Indian mascot issue, see a post I wrote earlier Mascots: Is the Name The Fighting Hitlers Already Taken?

The writer of this article about the Atlanta Braves design choice is not only insensitive to the issue of Indian iconography in sports, but isn't very eloquent in how he frames his disagreement with the franchise's decision to not be racist.

He states: 
The Atlanta Braves have cowered in the corner, yielding to a tiny minority of voices and have made a last-minute change to their BP cap design. But they don’t even have the nerve to issue a press release saying that they chickened out and didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. They didn’t say that they decided that honoring their past wasn’t worth offending the white guilt of some writers. They didn’t say that they wanted to be in the news one more time for bowing the the infinitesimal pressure they might have read in the comments section of some article about their new BP hats.
The article sounds like a kid whining because his parents didn't show up to his baseball game like they promised. Halfway through the article, I half expected to hear Will Smith start singing, "Parents just don't understand!" Reading this article, and a few of the comments underneath, crushed my optimism that this nation has made great strides in the racism department. In fact, I was amazed at the selfishness. Really, this is all about a disgruntled consumer that won't be able to buy the hat he wanted. In fact, nostalgic fans clinging to the Braves racial identity are truly in the minority, which makes his whole statement that much sillier and ironic. The loudest voices are not necessarily the majority of voices.

I encourage reading the rest of the article, linked right here. It is also worth reading comments. To be fair, from a design perspective, the laughing Indian is a much better design than the Atlanta A crossed with a tomahawk. However, that is a pretty poor argument to have when faced with the racially insensitive implications of both designs. At least the tomahawk isn't an actual Indian doing a characteristically Indian thing (he is presumably screaming a war-cry).

A comment from the comment section gave me hope that not every sports fan is an insensitive, shallow, racist. It reads as such:
Does this article have a point, or did you just feel the need to incoherently rant about some related subjects? Seriously, there's no sense of organization to this piece at all. You go from attacking the Braves organization for (wisely) backing down from the use of a potentially offensive design to criticizing them for using something simple, and then somehow you get to needlessly attacking the "self-entitled, unintelligent, hipster wannabes" who you perceive to be the root of the problem? Pick a subject and stick to that, don't just jump around from idea to idea without any sort of rhyme or reason. I'm not saying that I completely disagree with you - I think the logo, in this day and age, is a bit much, but there are certainly worse depictions of Native Americans that need to be stamped out first (looking at you, Washington Redskins). However, the way you go about constructing your argument makes you sound like an angry high schooler. Also, this all seems like a thinly veiled attack at Paul Lukas, who's been very vocal about his opposition of these sorts of caricatures. Maybe it's just me, though.
The writer of the article missed the point that the organization made an effort to be familiar with the feedback presented regarding their choice of icon and theme that they identify with. They made a choice to not aggravate a sensitive topic for a group of people in this country. Instead of understanding the issue, the writer of the article attacks what he considers to be a group too small to be taken seriously, thereby dismissing the entire civil rights stance.

Personally, I believe the Braves made a good decision to retire a culturally insensitive icon over 30 years ago, and then decide it was probably a bad idea to resurrect that icon. Hopefully soon we will arrive at a time when the Indian sports mascot is seen in the same light as minstrel shows, and there won't be a tomahawk, or laughing brave, or Chief Wahoo, or arrow head to be seen representing any sports franchise.

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