Cleveland Indians retire Chief Wahoo — sort of

KEITH ALLISON [(CC BY-SA 2.0)] / FLICKR
Controversial mascot will no longer be on in-game gear, will remain on merchandise

After years of controversy regarding the use of Chief Wahoo, a Native American caricature which has drawn the ire of baseball fans and members of the indigenous community, the Cleveland Indians have decided to retire their controversial mascot. Chief Wahoo, whose blood-red grin face has slowly become less prevalent on the team’s on-field gear, will officially go away at the start of the 2019 MLB season,

The appropriation of indigenous imagery and culture is nothing new to the world of sports. It is an issue which affects not only the world of professional sports, but schools across the nation. Up until 2011, Colusa High School, located an hour north of Sacramento, bore the controversial Redskins name and mascot, while the NFL team of the same name continues to draw criticism for refusing to change its name. Of the four major American sports, only the NBA is void of teams who use indigenous iconography. In college sports, the NCAA has tried cracking down on imagery which could be viewed as offensive. The Florida State Seminoles are in an unusual situation as compared to other NCAA teams with controversial mascots because they have the blessings of the tribe from which their name derives.

Though the Cleveland Indians are not alone in flaunting a controversial Native American mascot, the controversy has followed the team for many years, specifically during their World Series run in 2017, where the team fell short. For some, retiring the logo from the all in-game gear is a small but significant step in the right direction to some, while others see it as needless censorship. To appease the latter, the Cleveland Indians maintained that not only will the logo be allowed inside the stadium, but the team will continue selling merchandise which bears Chief Wahoo prominently.

“While we agreed with MLB to remove the logo from our on-field uniforms,” the Indians said in a statement on their website, “we understand the connection many in the Cleveland community have with Chief Wahoo, and we will support that relationship by continuing its presence on merchandise in our market. This will maintain the Indians’ ownership of the trademark as well, which we would risk losing to another organization if we ceased all use.”

To others, however, the wounds caused by the name will not be healed until the team officially does away with the mascot and offending logo both on and off the field. Countless petitions and articles have been turned out throughout the years begging for not only a change of mascot, but a change of name and brand. However, the Indians do not appear ready to take further steps to distance themselves from the name and mascot, stating simply that “the team name Indians will not be changed.”

Though the controversies surrounding the Indians name and logo will continue for as long as they allow both to be used in any capacity, retiring it from the game is a significant step. However, until the name and logo are wiped away for good, more controversy can be expected from supporters and detractors alike.

 

 

Written by: Bradley Geiser — sports@theaggie.org