A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Saturday, June 15, 2013

First In Their Hearts

Last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell inadvertently re-opened the debate over naming sports teams after Native Americans, especially the Washington Redskins. 
Defending the name against accusations of racism, Goodell clumsily claimed it "represents a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context," adding that the R-word "may stand for the strength, courage, pride and respect" of the men who wear the uniform.
This is laughable on its face. Hello? "Red" and "skin." It's about the color of someone's skin. That's not racist?
And consider how the team got this name in the first place. They used to be called the Boston Braves, but the owner, George Preston Marshall, moved them to Washington and changed the name to the R-word.
Marshall was one of the most racist owners in any sport, not just football. He was the last NFL owner to integrate his team, bragging, "We'll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites." And before he died, he stipulated in his will that none of his money should be spent on "any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form."
The Washington NFL team is an extreme example, but that shouldn't mean other sports teams named after Native Americans should get a pass, no matter how many fans say we should all lighten up.
As Suzan Shown Harjo of the Morning Star Institute, an indigenous-rights organization, says, "That non-Native folks think they get to measure or decide what offends us is adding insult to injury."
And that goes for demeaning team mascots, too, like the Atlanta Braves' Chief Knoc-A-Homa.
However, there is one team – and only one team – that I would grant an exception to: The Cleveland Indians.
That's because they're not named after an ethnic group; they're named after a person.
Back in the 1890s, Cleveland was represented by a baseball team called the Spiders. They weren't very good, finishing at the bottom year after year.
But in 1897 they signed a Native American pitcher/outfielder named Louis Sockalexis, a hard-hitting, hard-throwing member of the Penobscot tribe. And with him as their star, the Spiders surged from worst to first.
He became famous for his walk-off homers – four in the span of just nine games in May alone. Years later, the great John McGraw called him the best he ever saw – a better base runner than Ty Cobb and a more fearsome slugger than Babe Ruth.
He finished the season with a .331 average, leading the Spiders to the pennant.
The fans adored him, and he basked in their adoration, carrying newspaper clippings and fan mail wherever he went.
Then it all fell apart. He got injured the next year, and he started drinking to alleviate the boredom of not playing. Two years after that he was a washed-up alcoholic and out of baseball. And the Spiders went back to the cellar and ultimately out of business.
Sockalexis died in 1913 at the age of 42, clutching the press clippings he always carried tucked inside his shirt.
But his fans never forgot him. Two years later, the new Cleveland franchise had the fans vote for a permanent name for the team. They voted overwhelmingly for Cleveland Indians, in honor of the player they never stopped loving.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Vote For Ballari!

I'm not in the habit of endorsing political candidates, but I'll make an exception this time. I urge you to vote for Ballari the dog for Pet Mayor of Piedmont.
Ballari, who is one of 20 dogs and cats running for the office, is a sweet, nine-year-old Siberian husky whose first six years were a nightmare. He was tied by a rope to a stake in somebody's back yard and neglected 24/7.
But two years ago he was adopted by Sarah Kidder of Oakland. At first he wouldn't look you in the eye, didn't know how to play, and got confused whenever anyone tried to pet him.
But under her loving care he has blossomed into a sweet, gentle bundle of love, especially with little kids. And get this: HE SMILES ALL THE TIME! He positively radiates joy!
So how can you vote for him (or any of the candidates)? By donating to the Montclair Pet and Wildlife Fund. Each dollar earns you a vote. Donate $500, and you'll get 500 votes.
And you couldn't ask for a worthier cause. The fund cares for the animals who fall through the cracks – the baby birds who fall out of the nest, the baby squirrel or opossum who has been abandoned by its mother, the deer that has been hit by a car.
"Last year we treated a Peking duck that had escaped from Chinatown and a snake that was found nearly frozen to death in Lake Temescal," says Lee Richter, who – along with her husband, Gary, the veterinarian at Montclair Veterinary Hospital and its Oakland counterpart, Holistic Veterinary Care – founded the Pet and Wildlife Fund 10 years ago. "We were able to save them both and find new homes for them – the duck in a private home and the snake at the Oakland Zoo."
Every year, Lee and Gary spend about $80,000 out of their own pockets to help these animals, and the Piedmont Pet Mayor contest usually raises about a third of that. It used to be the Montclair Pet Mayor contest, but this year it was switched to Piedmont.
Each candidate is sponsored by a local merchant. Ballari is sponsored by Black Swan Books on Piedmont Avenue. You can cast your ballot(s) for him there, or you can vote for any of the candidates at Petandwildlifefund.org.
And he has some formidable competition, including Nala, a pit bull mix who inspires people every day by demonstrating that having only three legs doesn't get in the way of living a full and happy life; Mini, an English bulldog with a huge underbite (her platform is oral hygiene for pets); and Riley, a Chug Weenie (Chihuahua-pug-weiner dog, aka daschund) who loves beets, carrots and Point Isabel, not necessarily in that order.
Each candidate has its own Facebook page, and many of them will make special appearances at their sponsoring businesses or doing guest bartender stints at Park Avenue Bar & Grill or Monaghan's On The Hill. (Check the fund's website for dates.) Ballari will appear at Black Swan Books on Father's Day from 2 to 4 p.m.
"I like that the fund helps creatures who don't have a voice," says Kidder. "For so long, Ballari didn't have a voice or anyone to help him."