Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lost Images, Lost Seasons, Lost Litigation

From time to time, GT has turned its attention to the misadventures of sports teams in the United States which have named and in some cases de-named themselves after American Indian tribes or more simply, Indians, Redmen, Braves, and the like. (Relevant posts here and here). The subject periodically comes up as I work my way through a baseball season--characterized by expectation followed by crushed hopes [2005, 2007]; or more typically, dread punctuated by self-loathing [2006, 2008]--as a fan of the Cleveland Indians.

Let me stipulate for the record, again, that the Chief Wahoo logotype presents an insurmountable karmic obstacle. The baseball team from Northern Ohio will not win another World Series title (last one, 1948) until the leering hook-nosed strawberry-negro is permanently retired.

History will note that yesterday (okay, several days ago now), July 7, 2008 was marked by dramatic and possibly cosmic events for two such sporting enterprises.

1A: the Cleveland front office concluded that the season has gone irretrievably into the tank, and as a result dealt the reigning American League Cy Young award-winner CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for multiple prospects in his big-money soon to be free agent season. He will make a zillion dollars for somebody next year, but not Cleveland, and not Milwaukee. Strictly a rental. I'm used to it by now. Mark Shapiro, the Indians GM has made good deals in such circumstances before. They take some time to mature.

I like CC. I hope he does well. I also hope he overcomes his postseason bugaboo. I am still recovering from last year's ALCS against the Bosox.

1B: The Milwaukee Brewers are really the Milwaukee Germans.

2: On another note, a two-hundred-and-ten-dollar athletic logotype got trademark-mothballed due to jurisdiction issues in Federal Court, preventing a rearguard resurrection of Chief Illiniwek on downstate sportswear.
Read on. Reporting by Steve Bauer in the News-Gazette (Champaign-Urbana, Illinois).
Chief Illiniwek Logo Lawsuit Dismissed
Monday, July 7, 2008

URBANA – A federal lawsuit by Jack Davis, the designer of the Chief Illiniwek logo, against the University of Illinois Board of Trustees was dismissed today.

U.S. Central District of Illinois Chief Judge Michael McCuskey dismissed the suit, ruling that the federal court has no jurisdiction for the breach-of-contract claim by Davis.

In 1980, Davis, a graphics [sic] designer and UI graduate, created the circle-shaped logo featuring an image of an American Indian man in headdress and chest plate. He was paid $210 by the university for the logo.

In March 2007, Davis applied for and was rejected for a trademark. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled the university already registered the logo.

In January, Davis sued the university, claiming there had been an oral agreement with former UI associate athletic director Vance Redfern that if the logo was rejected or discontinued by the trustees, it would revert to Davis.

Davis claimed in his suit that the UI trustees formally declared that the university would officially abandon all future use of the logo, as well as the names "Chief Illiniwek" and "Chief" in order to comply with NCAA rules.

In April this year, attorneys for the UI filed a motion to dismiss the Davis suit, arguing that the federal court does not have jurisdiction over a contract dispute. Furthermore, the UI argued and McCuskey agreed, the claims by Davis are barred by immunity laws that prohibit suits against the state.

As racialized emblems go, I'd take Chief Illiniwek--no more real, historically speaking, than Cleveland's chief--over Wahoo in a heartbeat. The noble savage is a cartooned archetype, but it can't match a true cartoon for repulsive implications. Disconsolate Illini fans may be reassured to remember that the teams will remain "the Fighting Illini" sans logo, and that the News Gazette will be happy to send you a copy of Chief Illiniwek: A Tribute to an Illinois Tradition and The Chief: The Last Dance? (Revised and Updated Commemorative Edition) for the excellent price of $37.66 through Amazon.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Seahawks suggest a more successful approach to this problem: honor Indians by showing things they make, rather than showing what they supposedly look like. Which, come to think of it, applies to the Milwaukee Germans, too!

Images: George Catlin, The White Cloud, Chief of the Iowas, 1845; Antique Cleveland Indians Button, circa 1955, the misregistered printing on which make the chief look even worse, if that is possible; Cleveland Indians Alternate Home Jersey, 2008; CC Sabathia, then of the Indians, now of the Brewers; Paul Bunyan-themed commemorative beer stein, 1972 Upper Midwest Society of Steinologists, manufactured in Germany by Wick Werk, available for purchase here, at SteinCenter.com; Jack Davis, Chief Illiniwek logotype design, 1980; Seattle Seahawks football helmet design, in use 1983-2001, when it was replaced by a version which still makes reference to the NW tradition, but adds what was undoubtedly somebody's idea of a more "tough-looking" cartoon eyebrow thing.

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