The talk of nixing Chief Wahoo has reached an all-time high. Could this be the end of the beloved Chief?
There has been an uptick in talk the last couple of weeks with regard to the place that Chief Wahoo holds as mascot of the Cleveland Indians. The hot button issue of racist sports team logos is more pronounced on a national stage in places like Washington, D.C., but that doesn’t mean that Cleveland is immune to the talk. Recently the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Editorial board released a collective message that they felt it was time for the Indians and the Chief to part ways. Since that time, the Cleveland sports media has been in a tizzy arguing over the validity of the comments calling the Chief caricature racist in addition to question that sits at the center of this debate:
Should the Indians ditch the Chief in favor of the Block C logo or should they continue to use and market Chief Wahoo?
I personally feel that Chief Wahoo transcends any issues of race, color, or creed. When I look at the him, I don’t see a stereotypical caricature of a Native American. I see my first Indians game. I see the crisp grass of the outfield and the freshly raked dirt of the infield. I smell hotdogs, fireworks, and beer. Chief Wahoo isn’t a symbol of my team as much as he is a reminder of all the good things that accompany Indians baseball. As Indians fans, we do not define ourselves by the caricature of Chief Wahoo nor do we use it to mock a culture. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. We hold the Chief dear to our hearts. He is a rallying cry as we root on the Tribe. When we’re asked “who are you?” the response is a finger pointed to the Chief on the front of the hat accompanied by the words “I’m a Cleveland Indian.”
Having said that, I don’t deny the fact that Chief Wahoo is, inherently, a racist caricature — He is overtly racist! Denying that is asinine and ignorant. In the times that we live in, it’s probably good that the Indians are moving towards the block C logo. I don’t feel weird wearing him in public. I think if there was a real issue with the Chief, I and others would feel awkward wearing clothing with his visage. The complete opposite is true though. We embrace our logo and wear it proudly. He is a symbol of unity and strength among a community of baseball fans that have been let down more than any other franchise save the Cubs. With all of the hubbub around the Redskins’ logo problems (Dan Snyder is the real problem in Washington, not the logo), the Indians are just a casualty of association. Our logo just happens to be next in line for the throne of “Most Racist” so, naturally, the talk always seems to surround the Indians at some point in or around the season.
What has really surprised me through this logo question has been the lack of coverage by ESPN. For once in my life, I’m actually happy that ESPN isn’t paying attention to Cleveland with respect to Chief Wahoo. Like a locker room situation, it should be handled in-house by those who have skin in the game. In Cleveland’s situation, there are three groups involved:
1. The Organization
2. The Media
3. The Fans.
The Organization has been stuck in the middle thus far. While it is actively moving away from Chief Wahoo by utilizing the “Block C” logo more and more over the past 3-4 years. The Media has been split right down the middle. The Cleveland radio circuit has been decidedly against the logo change. I drive to and from Akron every day for school and I get to catch Kylie & Booms in the morning on 92.3 in addition Bull & The Fox in the afternoon. Over the past few weeks, when they have spoken on the issue of the logo change, Kevin, Chuck, Adam, and Dustin have all denounced the change, denounced those who want the change, and basically ripped to shreds the idea of the change. The Cleveland press however, has been neutral if not for the change. On February 28th, the Cleveland Plain Dealer Editorial Board released a collective statement calling for the end of the “racist caricature”. Other than that, the Cleveland press has let the issue simmer with an occasional blurb or two coming to the surface. In conversations with Indians fans at the University of Akron, there is an understanding that eventually, the logo has to change. At the same time, many fans indicated to me that it feels like the “PC culture” is coming in and stealing a symbol of their youth. Some of the opinions expressed regarding what Chief Wahoo means to fans almost directly matched those that I professed at the beginning of this article.
Overall, I would say that there is recognition across Northeast Ohio that Chief Wahoo will eventually have to be replaced for good. However, the process that the Indians are implementing now to replace Chief Wahoo with the “Block C” logo is something that works. Over the past few years, the Indians organization has done a very good job at slowly pulling the “Chief Wahoo rug” out from under the fans so that we don’t even notice. The Block C logo is almost analogous to Chief Wahoo now. If the organization continues to push it and other marketing plows in place of the Chief, I can see them completely disassociating with Chief Wahoo in two years with little to no consequence from the fans or the media. This is possible due to the slow and meticulous way in which they dissociated themselves. I imagine the Indians’ front office looks at like quitting smoking slowly and methodically rather than going cold turkey and shocking the body.
In closing, I don’t welcome the change of Chief Wahoo, but I understand the necessity for it. I’m a die-hard Tribe fan and I hate change. When you take away my Chief, you take away my childhood and what makes up some of my better memories from it. I hate that he has to go, I really do. At the same time, if one kid gets made fun of in reference to Chief Wahoo or his appearance, then I would feel terrible. Nobody should have to experience racism in the 21st century, especially because of a sports logo. I abhor any racist sentiment and thus, I sadly think it is time to see the Chief bid adieu.