MLB benches Chief Wahoo

CAITLYN SAMPLEY / AGGIE

Other teams should follow suit in eliminating offensive mascots

Major League Baseball announced on Jan. 29 that, starting in 2019, Chief Wahoo, a buck-toothed caricature of Native Americans that doubles as the mascot for the Cleveland Indians, will cease to appear on the team’s uniforms. In a statement to The New York Times, Rob Manfred, the commissioner of baseball, deemed the symbol “no longer appropriate for on-field use” — a long-overdue but nonetheless welcome divorce from a logo that many have considered disrespectful, shameful and racist.

The Indians are just one of many athletic groups to draw criticism for using Native American representations as emblems for their teams. Hundreds of high schools and colleges have already taken the initiative to shift toward less racially disparaging imagery. Stanford dropped its “Indian” mascot in 1972 and the University of North Dakota became the Fighting Hawks instead of the Fighting Sioux in 2015.

But professional sports — which have the largest platform and most significant amount of influence — have lagged behind at an embarrassing rate. Teams like MLB’s Atlanta Braves, the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs and the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks have all failed to seek more appropriate substitutes despite coming under fire for years.

The Washington Redskins, perhaps the most egregiously offensive case, faces ongoing condemnation for stubbornly refusing to consider alternative names. Despite the historical use of “redskin” as a racial slur, Dan Snyder, the owner of the Redskins, has stated with stunning obstinance that he will never change his team’s name, even claiming that it honors and celebrates Native Americans.

Hopefully, MLB’s decision will increase the pressure on other sports teams to desert their own Native American insignias. As a cornerstone of American culture, MLB possesses the stature to make a strong political statement that reaches and challenges millions of people. The decision could begin transforming public sentiment and create momentum for similar changes in the future.

But the removal of Chief Wahoo isn’t the only step the Indians must take to foster “a culture of diversity and inclusion throughout the game,” as Manfred said. While the Wahoo mascot will be retired from uniforms, the Indians still intend to sell merchandise with the bright red caricature at several of their souvenir shops. They have also released no current plans to scrap the Indians’ team name, instead continuing for the foreseeable future to make a profit off of an ethnic stereotype. The present solution is evidently a compromise for fans, but one that nevertheless must fizzle out to demonstrate true respect for Native American peoples.

Regardless, MLB’s resolution showcases not only that the athletic industry can be a powerful force in enacting political progress, but also that this type of change is both possible and reasonable. Last year, the U.S. witnessed a swarm of Americans who tightened their grips on reprehensible pieces of national history, from schools named after prominent Confederate leaders to cities protecting Confederate statues. The Editorial Board hopes that, as a massive industry in America, MLB will lead the way toward eliminating distasteful tributes to the past.

 

Written By: The Editorial Board