If the Cleveland Indians are methodically ridding themselves of Chief Wahoo, and if the Atlanta Braves quietly threw away their spring training hats bearing the caricature of a Native American, and if the Washington Redskins are tone deaf about their racist helmet logo and name, then what does that say about the Memphis Chicks?
I’ve never thought about it until recently. Harmless ignorance, possibly. But if the St. Louis Cardinals are my team, then the Memphis Chicks are my first love — the hometown team I grew up watching and cheering from the exquisite awfulness that was Tim McCarver Stadium.
The Chicks dissolved away when the Memphis Redbirds were born. (It’s complicated and involves a move to Jackson, Tenn., a terrible throwback to Andrew Jackson, if you get my drift.) The Triple-A Redbirds are beloved in Memphis because of their affiliation with the Cardinals and their downtown home, Autozone Park.
All of this bubbled up this summer because I bought this hat (see above).
It’s beautiful and gaudy and perfect. The Redbirds wear them occasionally in throwback games at Autozone. But that red-and-blue Native American logo can be — and likely should be — lumped in with all the other sports visuals whose ties to Native American imagery are under needed scrutiny. It is 2018, after all. We can do better.
A few things:
–Way back in the early 1900s, Memphis’ baseball team was named after the Chickasaw tribe of Native Americans who lived throughout the Mid-South and were later removed to the Indian territory in Oklahoma before the Civil War.
–The Chickasaw name was shortened to Chicks. (As a young kid of the ’70s, it took me a while to catch on that the team wasn’t named after girls. Seriously.)
–I’m not aware of either any sort of protest against the inappropriateness of the name or efforts to either change or defend it before the team moved east.
–Plus, I’m not aware of any official blessing from the Chickasaw tribe leadership in Oklahoma for the Memphis team to use the Chicks name.
Like most teams, Memphis’ hats and uniforms adopted varying styles as the decades passed. Sometimes, the Chicks wore a hat with an “M” on it, other times with the Indian-head silhouette. There were Indian-head patches on the jersey sleeves at one point. But the name never changed.
None of this bothered me in the ’70s and ’80s. None of it. I cheered the Chicks when young stars like Charlie Lea and Tim Raines were dominating the Southern League and Bo Jackson briefly wore the team’s colors. But if the Chicks existed today, I’d hope they would reach out to the Chickasaw tribe leadership and open a discussion about what they thought of the name and logo. Is it offensive to them? Do they cringe when they see the logo? Would they give their blessing?
At Florida State University and the University of Utah, teams sport Native American tribe names with the backing of those tribal leaders. That’s what the Chicks, if they ever rise from the grave, should do, too.
As for my hat, I’m wearing it.
Unless, that is, I start to feel guilty about it. Consider me torn.