Chief Wahoo has sat comfortably on the uniforms of the Cleveland Indians since 1948. Beginning in 2019, however, the logo – a caricature of a grinning Native American tribesman – will be ousted from the team’s uniforms and the on-field experience.
The decision by Major League Baseball and the Cleveland organization to remove Chief Wahoo comes after years of contention and controversy. The official reasoning for this decision is that the logo is “no longer appropriate” for use on the field, according to the commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred. On the side of the fans, traditionalists argue that the long-standing logo is not, in fact, racist, and is just in good fun. At the time of its conception, they say, the logo was completely acceptable. Progressivists and activists – and most importantly, Native Americans – on the other hand, contend that history is on the side of change. While Native Americans have always felt the pain that comes from the name “Chief Wahoo,” the rest of society has now recognized that words can be slurs, and images can be appropriation.
However, the keen MLB viewer will notice that this change has been implemented incrementally in recent years. In 2014, the organization removed Chief Wahoo from most of the official on-field hats, replacing it with the “Block-C” (a simple red “C”) design. Even recently-elected Hall of Famer Jim Thome, who played with Cleveland in the early nineties to the early aughts – and again in 2011 – has made it clear to the organization that he would like to have the “Block-C” design adorn his plaque in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He had worn the uniform design with Chief Wahoo on it during the majority of his time with Cleveland, and his statue at Progressive Field has the logo carved into the uniform as well. However, he noted that he feels as though the organization has made the right decision and that he would like to follow suit. “I just think that it’s the right thing to do,” Thome said in an interview.
Before dropping everything to celebrate this move as astronomical progress, though, it is important to note that the organization will not be parting ways with Chief Wahoo entirely. Instead of quitting the usage cold-turkey, the organization will continue to sell merchandise with Chief Wahoo’s beaming face through the 2019 season. While there will surely be those who will wonder why they are not stopping the usage of Chief Wahoo immediately and entirely, this small decision represents a larger movement that could have a huge ripple effect in professional sports: in the World Series last year, many broadcasters and journalists on FOX Sports and SportsNet chose to simply call the Cleveland Indians “the Cleveland team.”
This ripple was felt by the Washington Redskins organization, which has also been a subject of scrutiny in regard to their team name being a racial slur. The NFL team now stands in solidarity with their name as the only professional sports team that still refuses to acknowledge or address the blatant offensiveness of their name and logo.
Baseball is often called “America’s pastime”; our country’s other pastime seems to be careless cultural appropriation. While some may cry “snowflake” at those celebrating the excommunication of Chief Wahoo from the field, it is important to note that many of the most offensive, repugnant words and phrases were once largely accepted by non-minority populations. No, removing the image of the beaming tribesman is not going to cause an enormous cultural shift. However, MLB and the Cleveland organization’s decision is a signal of a larger movement of respect in sport culture – which is long overdue.
Featured Photo: Chief Wahoo will be retiring from the field and regaled to the gift shops as of 2019. JTRAINPHOTO/FLICKR