.At 4-5, and barely nine games into their quest to defend their American League title and avenge last year’s tough loss to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, the Cleveland Indians are battling MLB for the right to keep their beloved Chief Wahoo logo.
Beloved by fans and hated outside of Cleveland, the smiling red-faced Chief Wahoo logo has proverbially emerged as the most divisive emblem in today’s era of social media and activism.
First developed in 1947, and officially known as Chief Wahoo in 1950, Chief Wahoo has been an integral part of the Cleveland sports scene for more than 70 years.
Hall of Famers such as Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby wore the chief. Along with modern Indian greats such as Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, and Omar Vizquel. Nevertheless, Chief Wahoo is facing it’s greatest opponent. Specifically, those not named the New York Yankees or Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio or Miguel Cabrera.
The first protests of Chief Wahoo came during the Indians World Series matchup against the Atlanta Braves—another team with a Native American mascot—back in 1995, right around the height of the popularity of the Tomahawk War Chant, first popularized by college football’s Florida State Seminoles.
While Florida State has both the permission and blessing of the Seminole Nation to use their tribal name on merchandise and their distinctive war chant—which would also be used by the Kansas City Chiefs, and by the Washington Redskins—somehow it’s amazing how Chief Wahoo has gained such infamy.
While networks such as CBS and longtime NFL announcers will not even use or utter the word “Redskins” and prominent blogs such as Uni Watch—one of my all-time favorite sites to visit—have a ‘Skins Watch section, Chief Wahoo and the furor over it’s use is a completely different matter entirely.
Schools that have used Native American-sounding mascots such as The University of North Dakota, Eastern Michigan and Miami (OH) have all changed their names. Meanwhile, other pro sports franchises such as the Chicago Blackhawks aren’t facing the same kind of open criticism.
A recent example of the anti-Chief Wahoo sentiment happened this past fall when the Indians played the Toronto Blue Jays north of the border and threatened with a lawsuit by Canadian architect, Douglas Cardinal to block the team from using its name or Chief Wahoo logo during the ALCS.
Also north of the border, an Alvinston, Ontario-based youth baseball team, who ironically modeled themselves after the team, dropped their team name because they felt that it disrespected indigenous people, per CBC.
While I can understand the passion and disgust for Chief Wahoo on both sides. However, what this all boils down too is, I feel, a clash of generations and their beliefs.
On one side, you have the older generation. Thus the ones that grew up with Chief Wahoo being a part of the Indians name and brand. For as much as the better part of three generations. Consequently, generations are passing it down to their kids and so forth
.And on the other side, you have a more socially-conscious and more politically-correct—and sensitive—Millennial generation that feels empathy towards a people that they see are targets and glorified props of modern-day racism.
Being 40—and about to turn 41 June 1.—I’m somewhere in the middle in terms of this generational and socio-cultural debate over Chief Wahoo.
However, with all of the backlash and MLB stepping in and asking the Indians to remove/minimize its current use. As a result, it may be best to move on from Chief Wahoo.
I love my baseball, love my Tribe and have been there from the old days at cavernous Cleveland Stadium. Then to the late-inning comebacks and rallies at the Jake. But yet the undercurrent and ongoing debates amongst fans in and around the ballpark are impalpable.
You go down to the ballpark to enjoy a baseball game and cheer on your team.
Instead, you are met with anti-Chief Wahoo protesters outside and fans verbally screaming amongst themselves over its use.
If anything Chief Wahoo has become a proverbial lightning rod within its own fan base.
Many old-school fans will ask as to where were all of these protesters when the Tribe was losing for so many seasons. Sadly, success brings envy and reasons for many to be more critical.
In my opinion, based on all of the above, it’s time to move on from Chief Wahoo. In fact, we should retire the logo due to all of the controversy and protests that it invites.
Teams eventually change and update their looks. Furthermore, as a fellow Clevelander, we already saw the passionate response for and against the new Browns uniforms. No to mention, the recent backlash over the team threatening to add an all-white helmet.
Cleveland is and old-school, Rust Belt, blue-collar working town that is as no-frills as it gets. Any type of change to its sports teams color is seen as a proverbial assault on the city. And also to the fans of them.
For that, I GET that completely and understand where those who want the Indians to hold on to Chief Wahoo as much as possible as it is a link to THEIR team, their father’s and their grandfather’s favorite ball club.
Change is not only inevitable but in the case of Chief Wahoo, it’s completely warranted in this case.