On Offensive Headgear

Yesterday the Major League of Baseball released its 2013 Batting Practice Caps. And while the the news was generally greeted by the grateful tears of sorely underhatted and overfunded fans, it must be admitted that there was a small, sullen minority who felt some modicum of dissatisfaction at one particular logo, that of the storied Atlanta Braves:

As a responsible and thorough pseudo-journalist, I delved into the minds of the casual baseball fan; i.e., I read some internet comments sections. After the resulting chest pains and consumption of cheap whiskey, I can hesitantly lay out the following assessments:

1. That there will always be, in any society, a sense of conflict between people with disparate beliefs and values, and that in such circumstances the act of offending other people is, inevitably, unavoidable.

2. That there will always be people who feel fatigue at such a prospect, and turn to the universality that any feeling of being offended is at best a sign of weakness, and at worst a passive-aggressive attempt to wrest control over the presumed aggressor.

3. That we as a nation are no more settled on the question of political correctness, or even the nature of what makes something offensive to other people, than we were when we were creating Jeremy Piven Animal House ripoffs in the early nineties.

Perhaps this is strange, but I always found the Screaming Indian with his screaming far more jarring than the cartoonish, caricatured Chief Wahoo. Make no mistake — I detest both, and if the universe were at my mercy I’d eliminate traces of both mascots from the rolls. But in the current context of mascots, and a line of headwear featuring not one, but two men whose heads are shaped like oversized baseballs, the wrinkles on the brave’s brow throw me off.

Defenders of the logo seem to center on the idea that the Brave is a celebration, rather than a mockery, of America’s (and Atlanta’s, via Milwaukee and Boston?) past. To me, the confusion seems to rest in the mascot. The idea of the mascot, and what they’re actually supposed to represent, is probably a post in itself. The San Diego Padres do not, so far as I know, enlist any men who have taken the orders, and the only Mariners among Seattle’s roster are the ones who might sit and drink in a yacht on Lake Union in the summer. But it seems that if there’s any confusion as to whether a culture’s heritage is being celebrated or stereotyped, that’s something you have to consider discussing. Because while there may always be conflict and offense, not acknowledging that people are offended kind of makes someone look like a jerk.

But rather than continue with this aimless litany, I’ll complete this article with a Fun Game for You to Play. Each of the following hats is new and available for sale on the People’s Internet (click the hat to travel to its native proprietor). If you don’t find the Braves BP hat offensive, scroll down and decide whether these hats eventually do cross the line, and consider where the threshold might lie. If you already do find the first hat offensive: cringe.

Thus concludes this sloppy philosophical inquiry into the nature of interpersonal relations, and compilation of ugly hats. Thank you for reading.

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Patrick Dubuque writes for NotGraphs and The Hardball Times, and he served as former Bill Spaceman Lee Visiting Professor for Baseball Exploration at Pitchers & Poets. Follow him on Twitter @euqubud.

26 Responses to “On Offensive Headgear”

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  1. olethros says:

    The last three, while horrific, are at least marginally understandable given our culture. But what in the screaming fuck is that pink monstrosity supposed to be? The Mario Mendoza of headgear?

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    • MikeS says:

      That is what you get when you have a bunch of marketing types that have married trophy wives with IQ’s lower than a relief pitcher’s batting average who assume that women will buy anything pink.

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  2. Kyle says:

    Those last two, my god.

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  3. Choo says:

    Perhaps I am in the minority here, but I believe an image of Mr. T reaching the pinnacle sexual ecstasy is a fine way to honor our Native American brethren.

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  4. Greg says:

    The first one is an abomination, and the second one is pretty damn ugly, but I’d have no problem wearing the last two. I can’t imagine ANY caricature of a Native American not offending somebody, but there’s nothing hateful or malicious about any of those faces.

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    • Back,Back,Back,You Can Put It On The Board...YES! YES! An A-bomb. For A-rod! says:

      Most Americans still don’t know any Native Americans nor do they know much about their current culture. These logos reinforce an idea that they are still the same people as hundreds of years ago. They show Native Americans as warriors or chiefs when they are just people like anyone else. They have taken on American culture just like every other ethnic group. These logos instead say they are less evolved. Regardless of the initial intentions, they logos don’t honor Native Americans. They continue to create a divide between Native Americans and Americans.

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      • Greg says:

        If the Braves logo says all that about today’s Native Americans, the Minnesota Vikings’ logo says all the same things about 21st century Norwegians.

        Just about everything you wrote is baseless speculation, coming from the tremendously arrogant point of view that “Americans” are too stupid to be trusted with caricatures. I know, it’s fun to play protector and give a stern lecture in defense of the little guy, but in this case you’re both ignorant and misguided. Don’t do that.

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  5. The Director says:

    Just change the name Braves to the White Boys, and their logo can be Hitler’s face. There. Controversy over.

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  6. Anon says:

    I don’t understand the push to remove representation of some people (native Americans usually) from teams but not others.

    While teams are being renamed, don’t forget the following:
    Vikings, Fighting Irish, Celtics, Quakers, Boilermakers, Engineers, 49ers, Cowboys, Deacons, Hoosiers, Miners, Mountaineers, Pirates, Sooners, Rangers, Yankees, Padres, and many many more

    As long as a team isn’t disrespectful to whom/what it represents, I have no problems with a wide variety of mascots/nicknames.

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    • Back,Back,Back,You Can Put It On The Board...YES! YES! An A-bomb. For A-rod! says:

      A mascot as a stereotypical Native American continues the stereotype of an entire race that cannot be represented by the stereotype. If any mascot, regardless of the group they represent, embodies that group’s stereotypes, it is insulting.

      When having a mascot based on any group of people, the mascot will supposedly represent the entire group. This implies that any mascot based on a group of people will reinforce stereotypes. How could a mascot possibly honor the group if they continue stereotypes about the group? Instead, these mascots show disrespect towards the groups as their group is used as entertainment to others by reinforcing the stereotypes.

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  7. Tigers fan says:

    I was once at a Tigers/Indians game with my 12-year-old daughter, and we saw some guy with a shirt that had that horrible “Indian” logo but it had been sort of converted to appear like a racist Asian cartoon, and there was a tag line that said “Choo on this!”

    And it was clear that he was an Indians fan, who thought this was a good idea.

    I’ve rarely seen my kid have such a look of horror on her face, and it really brought home how shameful it is that the MLB–protector’s of “America’s pastime”–allows this kind of thing to go on.

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  8. Tim says:

    I’ve always believed that it’s pointless to be offended politically at things that are objectively terrible. Bad is worse than racist, and these are so bad that it’s hardly worth piling on. It’s like being pissed off that your shit doesn’t have enough cupholders.

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  9. adam w says:

    the idea of putting blackface on a native american caricature is so completely absurd that it transcends being offensive and just becomes hilarious.

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  10. KB says:

    This post may have backfired.

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  11. Hello says:

    I don’t think the issue is about stereotypes. It’s about respect for a culture that was the victim of genocide. These logos are not how you pay tribute to murder victims. Don’t you guys get it?

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  12. rubesandbabes says:

    Lots of insensitivity in the comments. The Greg guy gets it wrong, The A-Rod guy gets it right (and then gets shouted down kinda dully by the Greg guy).

    The Washington DC NFL football team name is the worst of the bunch.

    Death of the Sixties Dept: Still remember Hanoi Jane Fonda doing the Tomahawk Chop. People, to the bunkers!

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  13. lilburn says:

    I’m a part Cherokee Braves fan who owns (and wears) a screaming Indian hat similar to this. I am not offended.

    I’m glad I could settle this for you all.

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  14. Gabriel says:

    Let’s not limit our outrage to insensitivity to racial groups. A quick run-down of offensive baseball team names:

    Twins- offensive to only children
    Angels- offensive to religious believers AND non-believers
    Padres- offensive to protestants
    Dodgers- offensive to New Yorkers, who rightly point out that LA doesn’t have public transportation to dodge.
    Giants- offensive to little people
    Athletics- offensive to the overweight majority
    Yankees- offensive to Southerners. Is it any surprise the South is dramatically under-represented with Baseball franchises?
    Metropolitans and Nationals- offensive to those with any imagination at all
    Brewers- offensive to Mormons and Muslims
    Pirates- offensive to victims of Maritime crime
    Red Sox and White Sox- offensive to proponents of accurate spelling
    Blue Jays, Cardinals, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Rays, Tigers and Cubs- offensive to animal lovers
    Rockies- offensive to acrophobes
    Mariners- offensive to those who suffer from seasickness
    Reds- offensive to capitalists and those oppressed under communist regimes
    Royals- offensive to republicans
    Rangers and Astros- offensive to liberals (because they must be right-wing code, coming out of Texas)
    Indians- offensive to Pakistanis
    Braves- offensive to cowards

    Congratulatins, your Philadelphia Phillies are your only inoffensive baseball team. Hopefully no one is objecting to brotherly love.

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  15. S says:

    Eventually, aliens are going to invade Earth, kill much of the population, take 90% of the land for their own settlements, and then start an Earth blurnsball team with alien players and fans but a cute “human” caricature mascot, and then we’ll really all have to decide how we’re supposed to feel about this sort of thing.

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  16. Please note, dear readers: I love each and every one of you.

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