Native American group plans to file a $9 billion lawsuit against the Cleveland Indians over Chief Wahoo

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I think my record on the Chief Wahoo thing is pretty clear by now. I’m quite obviously not a fan. But there’s a big, big difference between thinking something is offensive and should be banished to history and thinking that thing actually entitles people to billions of dollars in legal damages. Some folks to whom I’d otherwise be sympathetic are going to learn that pretty quickly.

From Paul Kiska at ABC5 in Cleveland, brought to our attention by Big League Stew:

Robert Roche is the director of the American Indian Education Center and one of the plaintiffs planing to file a federal lawsuit in late July against the Cleveland Indians. The group says the team’s name and the Chief Wahoo logo are racist. The group wants a lot of money to help Native Americans with education, job training and housing.

“We’re going to be asking for $9 billion and we’re basing it on a hundred years of disparity, racism, exploitation and profiteering,” Roche said.

Normally it’s folks who support things like Chief Wahoo or the Redskins name who fail to grasp what does and what does not violate one’s rights. One need only search “Redskins” and “freedom of speech” to get a taste of that sort of baloney. Here, however, Roche and the American Indian Education Center are the ones who are missing the point of how things work in this country.

The Cleveland Indians are a private corporation. They, like any other private citizen, can be as offensive as they want to be. They can do more than put a Wahoo patch on their caps and jerseys, in fact! They could have a “We really, really hate Native Americans Day” at Progressive Field and hand out racist literature stamped with “The Cleveland Indians heartily endorse this message because, oh my god, we really hate racial minorities.” Now, I know some people who work for the Indians and know they wouldn’t choose to do that, but legally speaking, they totally could. That sort of freedom — and the corresponding freedom of baseball fans all over to boycott/ostracize them into the Stone Age if they did — is one of the beauties of America.

But do you know who could sue the Indians if they did that? No one. Well, some employees could based on a hostile work environment theory. And Major League Baseball could do whatever it wanted to up to and including any litigation it might choose that is consistent with the team’s and the league’s franchise agreement. But ordinary citizens couldn’t. They don’t have any more right to sue the Indians over Chief Wahoo than they’d have to sue the organizers of a Klan march on the statehouse, a jackwagon yelling things at people on a street corner or your racist uncle who had too many beers last Memorial Day and decided to tell you what he really thinks of that ethnic minority family who moved in down the street. Maybe those folks have some unpopular views, but our legal system protects their rights for good reason.

Of course Robert Roche and the American Indian Education Center likely know this. And I presume they are merely seeking out some headlines in order to draw attention to their cause. But ultimately this sort of stunt is counterproductive as a means of swaying public opinion. A lot of people hate Chief Wahoo and a lot of people love him. But a lot MORE people hate lawyers and litigiousness and are immediately suspect of someone who files — or, in this case, threatens to file — lawsuits against their beloved institutions. Especially ones with little if any legal merit.

Put differently: you’re not helping, dudes. Keep up the protests and the public pressure. Even think about narrow, focused legal action with actual merit such as the trademark challenge the Redskins just lost. But cut it out with the billion dollar damage claims.

Major League Baseball needs to make an example out of José Ureña

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We’re about an hour and a half separated from the first pitch of Wednesday night’s Marlins/Braves game that featured Marlins starter José Ureña hitting Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña on the elbow with a first-pitch, 97.5 MPH fastball. The benches emptied, Ureña was ejected, and the game went on. Acuña left the game not long after to tend to his injured elbow.

After the game, when the Marlins speak to the media, they will almost certainly deny any ill intent towards Acuña, who had hit leadoff home runs in three consecutive games against them. When they do so, they will be lying. Watch how catcher J.T. Realmuto sets up on the first pitch.

ESPN Stats & Info notes that Ureña’s 97.5 MPH fastball was in the 99th percentile in terms of velocity of the 2,125 pitches he has thrown this season. It was also the fastest pitch Ureña has ever thrown to begin a game. Ureña put a little extra mustard on this pitch, for some reason.

Ureña has a 6.8 percent walk rate, which ranks 37th out of 95 starters with at least 100 innings of work this season. The major league average is eight percent. Control isn’t typically something with which he struggles.

Furthermore, Acuña isn’t the only player who has drawn Ureña’s ire:

Ureña wanted nothing to do with Hoskins — even though Hoskins has yet to get a hit off of him — in his August 4 start at home against the Phillies, walking him twice which included a few up-and-in pitches.

Ureña will almost certainly be fined and suspended for his actions on Wednesday night against Acuña. But will his punishment be enough to deter him and others from wielding a baseball as a weapon? Probably not. On June 19, when Marlins starter Dan Straily intentionally threw at Buster Posey, he received a five-game suspension and manager Don Mattingly was suspended one game. If you look at Straily’s game logs, you can’t even tell he was suspended. He started six days later on June 25 against the Diamondbacks and again on July 1 and 6. Because starters only pitch once every five days, it was like he wasn’t even suspended at all.

Major League Baseball needs to levy harsher punishments on players who attempt to injure other players. A 15-game suspension, for example, would force Ureña to miss at least two starts and it would inconvenience the Marlins enough to more seriously weigh the pros and cons of exacting revenge. The Marlins couldn’t work around it the way they did Straily by pushing back his scheduled start one day.

Major League Baseball also needs to make a legitimate effort to do away with this culture of revenge against players who are just a little bit too happy. Batters get thrown at when they flip their bats, when they yell at themselves in frustration, and even when they’re just hitting well. Baseball’s stagnating audience is very old, very white, and very male. It is not going to bring in fans from diverse backgrounds by keeping this antiquated culture that prevents baseball players from showing their personalities and being emotive. In the event Acuña needs to go on the disabled list for a couple weeks, that’s two weeks that Acuña isn’t on SportsCenter’s top-10, isn’t on the front page of MLB.com, and isn’t in articles like this. The culture of revenge is actively harming MLB’s ability to market its bright, young stars. If ending this culture of revenge doesn’t hit MLB from a moral angle, it should absolutely hit home from a business angle.