Why one Blue Jays broadcaster refuses to say ‘Indians’ in the ALCS

Don’t expect Toronto Blue Jays play-by-play voice Jerry Howarth to mention the Indians at all when the two teams meet in the American League Championship Series.

Howarth, the Blue Jays radio voice since 1981, won’t utter the name of Cleveland’s baseball team because he knows it’s offensive to some Native Americans. It’s a stance we’ve seen announcers take in the NFL, where some broadcasters have refused to call Washington’s team the Redskins.

This isn’t new-age posturing by Howarth. He’s actually held this stance for more than 20 years, it’s just not something that gets brought up that often. But Howarth was a guest on the Jeff Blair show on SportsNet in Toronto on Tuesday and Blair asked him about it. It was the first time, Howarth said, anyone had brought it up in a long time.

His decision, he said, goes back to 1992, when the Blue Jays won the World Series after beating the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves. In the offseason, Howarth got a letter from a Native American fan explaining why he found the team names and things like the Braves’ Tomahawk Chop offensive.

Howarth decided right then and there he’d stop. He wrote the fan back and vowed: “For the rest of my career I will not say ‘Indian’ or ‘Brave’ and if I was in the NFL I would not say ‘Redskins.”

“It was my way of saying,” Howarth told the radio audience Tuesday, “I agree with you and your feelings and that’s how I’m going to honor that and your entire Native American culture.”

An Indians fan in redface at Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox. (AP)
An Indians fan in redface at Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox. (AP)

While the Indians don’t come under fire as much as the Redskins do, their depiction of Native Americans is still troubling to many fans. The Indians have stopped using Chief Wahoo — the Native American caricature — as their primary logo, but even keeping him around as a secondary logo and playing as the Indians is enough to draw protestors from the Native American community every year.

Still, a few Indians fans see no problem with dressing up like Native Americans and attending games in red face. That’s probably not going to change, even if the Indians were to finally retire Chief Wahoo. Those fans are steadfast in their belief that it’s not a big deal, even as more people have denounced Chief Wahoo in recent years.

Jerry Howarth will be making his stand in the ALCS. Again. It’s too bad these red-faced Indians fans won’t hear him.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!