After 70 years, Chief Wahoo is going away—sort of.
Beginning in 2019, the Cleveland Indians’ logo/mascot will be phased out, disappearing from on-field uniforms but remaining on some team merchandise.
The move follows years of pressure from activists and Major League Baseball itself, and it goes against the wishes of many Cleveland fans, as was noted in a cautious statement from Indians principal owner Paul Dolan.
“We have consistently maintained that we are cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the discussion,” Dolan said in a statement issued by M.L.B. “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.”
The Indians announced the change on Monday. The team name — which has also been criticized as offensive — will not be changing.
“Major League Baseball is committed to building a culture of diversity and inclusion throughout the game,” MLB’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, said in a statement. “Over the past year, we encouraged dialogue with the Indians organization about the Club’s use of the Chief Wahoo logo. During our constructive conversations, [Indians CEO] Paul Dolan made clear that there are fans who have a longstanding attachment to the logo and its place in the history of the team.
Major League Baseball tweeted out the announcement:
— MLB Communications (@MLB_PR) January 29, 2018
Some fans were disappointed that the beloved mascot would be removed from team uniforms.
“Sadly, the Indians caved to the politically correct society that we are now all forced to live in,” Zach Sharon of Cleveland Sports Talk wrote. He said the logo is a representation of the team — one that reminds fans of the glory years of the ’90s, when “those great teams all sported the Chief Wahoo on their jerseys and those memories give myself and other fans goosebumps.”
“Thankfully, fans will continue to wear their Chief Wahoo apparel, probably even more ,” Sharon wrote. “I know I will. You’ll see it in the stands and around the city every Indians game. It’ll never truly go away.”
Chief Wahoo will remain on licensed apparel and be available in souvenir shops.
[…] Joel Barkin, the Oneida Nation’s VP of communications, is hopeful that the uniform change will affect fans’ purchasing decisions.
“MLB’s statement that it’s not acceptable to wear the logo on the field, it’ll follow that it’s not acceptable to wear in the stadium,” he told CNNMoney. “It will make consumers question whether their kids should be wearing it, whether they should buy it.”
Barkin said the issue of the logo has always been about respect.
“These are harmful images and words. It’s not just offensive, there are actual psychological effects,” he said. “MLB heard from and had conversations with independent tribal nations, consulted them and took action. That should be celebrated.”
Others, however, are upset that the change will take until 2019 and that there will still be merchandise for sale with Chief Wahoo’s likeness.
In an op-ed for CNN, Jeff Pearlman wrote:
Hell, why will your team still be selling Chief Wahoo T-shirts and assorted garb at stadium souvenir shops? And why will it take till 2019 for the team’s uniforms, and banners and signs in Progressive Field to lose the logo? Is this even a real gesture of compassion? Or simply a look-at-how-good-we-are play?
That’s the heartbreaking thing about the unseen mechanisms of professional sports: make no mistake, they are entirely about PR, not substance. On the surface, we’re presented with shiny helmets and cheering crowds and clubhouse families. It’s about identically outfitted men and women coming together to accomplish a common cause. To win with heart and passion and cohesiveness.
[…} Truth be told, the coming semi-death of Chief Wahoo isn’t a victory. It’s merely a cosmetic shift that hides the retrograde truth of what too many of those in charge of professional sports genuinely believe.
Some on Twitter celebrated the change:
The Cleveland Indians racist logo “Chief Wahoo” is NO MORE. If people were as angry about the genocide of actual Native Americans as they are about the death of this “fake one,” then maybe indigenous people would have more justice.
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) January 29, 2018
Others argued that the problem is far from fixed:
The @Indians have not banned fans from attending games in redface/headdresses. The team will con’t to sell merch w/ the racist caricature, profiting off the dehumanization of Natives. The team hasn’t changed its name, and they have not apologized for enabling racist behavior.
— Simon Moya-Smith (@SimonMoyaSmith) January 29, 2018
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Some tried to rally other fans to save the logo:
RETWEET if you want the Cleveland Indians to keep Chief Wahoo! pic.twitter.com/eLt4pMN9mE
— Vern Thompson (@VernThompson) January 30, 2018
Others turned their eyes to sports franchises that still have race-based caricatures as their logos:
the cleveland indians are removing their racist caricature from their unis. your up next, washington football team. https://t.co/XpD7St1FZF
— mark lamster (@marklamster) January 29, 2018
Many were left scratching their heads as to what the baseball team’s PR strategy was in revealing the name change now, but dragging out the process until 2019:
Cleveland Indians marketing meeting:
“I think it’s time we admit this logo is offensive.”
“But let’s keep it around for one more season, because that makes sense, right?”
“Yes! Good call. We acknowledge it’s racist, then we drag the whole thing out.”
— Rex Huppke (@RexHuppke) January 29, 2018