From Chiefs to Mets, a tale of political correctness

On October 16, the Mets held a press conference and made it official, their new triple A farm club in Syracuse would jettison its traditional nickname, the “Chiefs,” and would morph into the Syracuse Mets for the 2019 season. This was no great surprise, as the cat had been let out of the bag back on January 3, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo held his State of the State address. In that speech, with Jeff Wilpon in the audience, Cuomo stated that the Syracuse franchise would change its name to Mets.

Why did the Governor make this announcement back in January? If it was a simple rebranding, you would expect team officials to declare it, not a governor. You would think there would be more important items to be presented in a State of the State address than the nickname of a minor league team. The manner of this announcement sure looks like a nod toward political correctness.

The Governors’ announcement of the name change smacks of a purely political move, with the Governor leading the charge for political correctness to shore up his base. When the Binghamton Mets became the Rumble Ponies in 2016, it was not the Governor that made the announcement, so why should he interject himself into this issue this time? Few minor league teams bear the nickname of the parent club. For example, there was no push to rename the Las Vegas 51’s the Las Vegas Mets when the Mets’ management controlled that club.

The Syracuse team has been known as the Chiefs for a long time, since 1934, with a tweak to “Sky Chiefs” from 1997 to 2006. It might be expected that such a well established brand would continue on. Syracuse sits right in the heart of what was once the lands of the Iroquois Confederation, and the original logo of the Chiefs tied into that relationship.

Therein lies the rub. There has been a sort of movement in baseball, and other sports, to eliminate any team names or mascots that have any association with the indigenous tribes of North America. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has been part of this movement. The Cleveland Indians are scrapping their long time logo Chief Wahoo, featuring a grinning warrior, for next season. According to the New York Times, that move was made due to pressure from Manfred.

In 1986 Atlanta dropped its mascot Chief Noc-A-Homa. It is certainly possible these symbols might offend some people. But the Syracuse Chiefs’ logo has not featured an actual tribal Chief since 1996, it has depicted some form of a locomotive since then.

One might think that the indigenous tribe members are behind the movement to erase tradition, but that is not the case. In 2016 the Washington Post conducted a poll, and the results were that only “5% of Native Americans are upset with depictions of Indians on sports teams.” It would seem that the victim politics crowd is the group that is upset, not the actual indigenous people.

It may well be that the Wilpons did not particularly care what the name of the farm team is, they just saw an opportunity to get on the good side of the Commissioner and the Governor by taking the politically correct approach.

The term political correctness can be traced back to the 1920s Soviet Union and the need of the Communist party to enforce orthodoxy in thinking. A far more pro-freedom position is that espoused by the late Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, who said “I always tried to be correct, not politically correct.”

12 comments for “From Chiefs to Mets, a tale of political correctness

  1. October 23, 2018 at 9:53 am

    Chief Nokka Homma and Chief Wahoo were carricatures Of American Indians…. They’re similar to the old Aunt Jemima depictions—- changing those symbols based on recognition of what they “say” is a positive change.

    The change of Mascots?…. There’s a difference between “Indians” and “Redskins”. There doesn’t seem to be a rush to eliminate all “Indigenous People Mascots and Names”— but “Redskins” leans more toward a highly reduced carricature of a Culture….. a Racial Slur by definition. While that is not universally embraced as a Fact (even among Indigenous people), it is widely viewed as such.

    I don’t know that the Syracuse Chiefs have a successful Branding….. I’m guessing that there was more than a little sense of relief that they stepped away from a wwider controversy by changing the name. I also believe that The Mets and The Syracuse franchise gain even more by the change of names and uniforms, along with the upgrades to the park. Now and in the Future—That’s a big win for both.

  2. October 23, 2018 at 9:58 am

    I fail to see how this can be an issue in the modern era. While “Chiefs” is not the most offensive term, the Mets, having purchased the team are well within their rights to rebrand the team to their name and are further savvy to avoid potential future grief by waiting to make a change later.

    This is not only a benign PR move to shift away from cultural appropriation and stereotyping but it is a straightforward shift to the name of the parent franchise and ownership.

    I fail to see the negatives of the name change.

    • John Fox
      October 23, 2018 at 12:41 pm

      David, a negative to the name change from my perspective is that it strengthens the hand of the crowd that takes offense at things that any reasonable person would have to bend over backwards to see that there was any offense intended. A good example is the recent controversy affecting Ron Darling, when he was forced to apologize for referring to a “chink in the armor” of a pitcher’s approach. No reasonable person could think that he meant anything offensive, and we don’t need to strengthen the hand of those who claimed it was offensive.

      • Chris F
        October 23, 2018 at 4:05 pm

        John, see my comment below. Im certain this has exactly zero to do with cultural appropriation. You are making something out of nothing.

        All NY Mets owned teams are known as the “Mets” without exception. It would not have mattered what their name was.

  3. Chris F
    October 23, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    I agree with Eraff and David.

    I will also point out that this also aligns with branding consistency for teams owned by the NY Mets: DSL Mets, GCL Mets, Kingsport Mets, St Lucie Mets, and now Syracuse Mets.

    The independently owned teams have their own branding, namely the Fireflies and Rumble Ponies.

    The Cyclones are owned by Sterling Equities, obviously a Mets family operation, but not listed as Mets ownership.

  4. October 23, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    Just because we’re well meaning and “reasonable” doesn’t preclude our humble ignorance. Calling Indian’s by the names Chiefs, Braves, Indians, Cherokees….that’s different than calling them by a singular, reductive caricature—Redskins. Given the history and present social and economic standing of Indigenous peoples and American Indians on reservations, please be open to the fact that we are often treading Harshly…even while unaware and un-intending.

  5. A.J. Ard
    October 23, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    Very good read. And great point about the Iroquois tradition in Syracuse area.

    • John Fox
      October 23, 2018 at 8:56 pm

      Thanks A J., I was beginning to think I was off-base, so to speak.

  6. Mike Walczak
    October 23, 2018 at 11:15 pm

    So what’s next, the Kansas City Chiefs? Enough already. This country is so divided in so many ways. As Americans, we all need to support each other and celebrate what we have in common. When people are in trouble, it’s up to all of us to lift them up.

    I personally think the name change from Chiefs to Mets is a good thing. May drive more people to their ballpark.

  7. TexasGusCC
    October 24, 2018 at 12:42 am

    John brings up an interesting point about how only 5% are offended. Most reasonable people can tell when something is mocked and when it is merely referenced. It’s ludicrous to think that naming anything that which you are willing to be called offends that something; rather it honors it. Last night I was socializing with some customers when I told them that us Greeks are going to organize a protest up to Michigan State to have them drop the Spartans name from their university.

    • John Fox
      October 24, 2018 at 12:33 pm

      uh-oh Gus, hope the Michigan State folks don’t see your post and get any ideas.

  8. John
    October 24, 2018 at 9:51 am

    Sometimes political correctness is just correctness.

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