CLEVELAND — A smiling reminder of lazy summer days. An ugly depiction of racism.
Beloved by some, reviled by others.
Chief Wahoo — the grinning, wide-eyed, feather-wearing logo that has divided baseball fans and even families in Cleveland — is being tossed from the game.
Major League Baseball announced Monday that starting in the 2019 season, the Indians will no longer have the polarizing Wahoo logo — used by the club since 1947 — on their jersey sleeves or caps.
Following discussions over the past year between Commissioner Rob Manfred and team owner Paul Dolan, the sides agreed that the cartoonish caricature is “no longer appropriate for on-field use.”
It’s being applauded as a significant step by some Native American groups, who hope the move pushes other major league franchises, like the NFL’s Washington Redskins, to abolish logos or change nicknames deemed offensive.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Philip Yenyo, executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio.
While Yenyo was elated when the AP informed him of Wahoo’s diminishing status, he also expressed deep disappointment that the Indians will continue to wear the logo during the upcoming season and sell merchandise featuring the big-toothed emblem.
“I don’t understand why they’re drawing this out,” Yenyo said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me, unless they want to continue to make what’s basically blood money. Just make the leap already.”
It may be more complicated than that in Cleveland. Although the club won’t acknowledge it publicly, there were financial reasons to consider in banning Wahoo. The team will still profit from its use by selling caps, T-shirts and others products featuring Wahoo in the Cleveland area.
By maintaining the trademark, the Indians will keep control of the logo and its usage. If they surrendered the trademark, another party could use Wahoo anyway it wished.
Manfred said the impetus to remove Wahoo came from MLB’s commitment to “building a culture of diversity and inclusion throughout the game.” The Commissioner had been urging the Indians to drop the logo since 2016, when the club made its first World Series in 19 years and the national spotlight further illuminated an already touchy subject.
Although MLB and the Indians claim that Cleveland being awarded the 2019 All-Star Game did not play into the decision, it’s clear that Manfred, who has been exerting more pressure on Dolan to dump Wahoo, did not want another big event tainted by the contentious logo’s presence.
It was time for it to go.
“While we recognize many of our fans have a longstanding attachment to Chief Wahoo, I’m ultimately in agreement with Commissioner Manfred’s desire to remove the logo from our uniforms in 2019,” Dolan said in announcing the decision.
The Indians may consider an alternative logo in the future, but the team has no plans to change its nickname.
The club had already taken steps to address the concerns of Wahoo protesters, like reducing the logo’s visibility and introducing a block ‘C’ as the club’s primary insignia.
That wasn’t enough for some Native American groups who believed the logo and nickname diminished them as people.
Yenyo believes changing the nickname is the only thing that will alter the behavior of some fans who may not realize how much their actions hurt others.
“If they don’t get rid of the name, then you’re still going to have fans going down there wearing headdresses and painted in red face,” he said.
There was no immediate reaction from Indians players to MLB’s decision.
However, Cleveland fans were quick to respond on social media, weighing in on a topic that has become engrained in the Cleveland sports lexicon for decades.
“It’s a big disappointment,” Jeremiah Baker of North Ridgeville, Ohio, said after picking through a clearance bin of caps with his wife and two children at a suburban sporting goods store. “Chief Wahoo has been so iconic for so many years, and I understand that some people may be offended, but it’s a blow to native Clevelanders.”
It will be interesting to see if Wahoo gains popularity following the decision to remove the scarlet-faced insignia. Cleveland’s players may no longer be adorned with the logo in ‘19, but it will remain prominent in the stands as fans won’t be denied for wearing caps and T-shits or bringing signs backing the infamous chief into the ballpark.
And to some, that’s a sign of the times.
“That’s the way it is, I guess,” said Baker, wearing one of the team’s blue caps with a red ‘C‘. “I know people get offended about just about everything nowadays. It’s disappointing.”
Change was inevitable, and it finally happened as the Indians near the start of a new season — the last one with Chief Wahoo on the field.
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