Jacoby Ellsbury’s burden

By Tim Murphy

For the Red Sox fans like myself who sat through 5+ hours of moderately entertaining baseball in the hopes that the light at the end of the tunnel would eventually materialize, the sight of Eric Gagne warming up to start the 11th inning had the feel of being pinched repeatedly with toe-nail clippers. There was a chance that everything would be ok in the end, that he might somehow escape the inning without giving up a run, but with Gagne, it’s the process that usually gets you as much as the end result–The habitual shaking of his shoulder before and after every single pitch, the remnants of his pre-game meal stuck in beard and clearly visible in HD, the gratuitous profanity (in French) after each new baserunner, and my personal favorite: the four-pitch walk.In the end, it was the worst extra inning collapse in playoff history, and one of the longest games. If only good luck charm Mitt Romney had been in attendance…Anyways, as I mentioned during the ALDS, this postseason has also meant hour and hours of exposure for the most offensive logo in professional sports: Chief Wahoo. It should not even be a debate at this point–Wahoo is nothing more than Native American blackface and does no more to “honor” native americans than Little Black Sambo does for blacks. If surveys do in fact show that a fair number of American Indians are ok with the logo, that might be because after 500+ years of being stepped all over, they’re resigned to taking solace in whatever they can get.With Jacoby Ellsbury, the first Navajo ever to play in the big leagues, on the Red Sox’s playoff roster, the normally detestable Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe took the opportunity to find out how the rookie speedster felt about his opponent. Here’s his answer:

“Not too many things offend me,” Ellsbury said in the Sox clubhouse yesterday morning. “I’m not offended. You can look at it two different ways. You can look at it that it’s offensive or you can look at it that they are representing Native Americans. Usually I’ll try to take the positive out of it.”

Ellsbury is soft-spoken and new to the spotlight, and with so much on the line for his team, it’s understandable that he wouldn’t want to start a controversy that could become a distraction. Still, he and the Yankees’ Joba Chamberlain are on the verge of becoming the first Native American superstars in any sport since Jim Thorpe (excepting Billy Mills’s 1964 Olympics). It is very possibly that they will be the face of their respective franchises over the next decade, and by virtue of that, the face of the most visible rivalry in American professional sports. There is a vast amount of literature surrounding the plight of the American Indian, but no spokesperson, no real identifiable face that gives credence to the movement. With the inevitable prestige, the two rookies will have an opportunity–some would say an obligation–to use their position as a platform for change.If Joba Chamberlain and Jacoby Ellsbury expresed their displeasure with Chief Wahoo, Major League Baseball–and Cleveland–would have no choice but to consider making serious changes. For all it has done to commemorate Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente, if they upheld a racist caricature amid protests from their own players, MLB would throw away 60 years of progress in the name of an abhorrent “tradition.”