Editorial on removal of Chief Wahoo.
By Adam Schabel
The Cleveland Indians announced that starting in 2019 they will no longer be using the controversial Chief Wahoo logo on their uniforms. It was also announced that they will not be changing their team name.
The current logo has been used by the team since 1947, but the usage of the logo has been dialed back in recent years.
The team re-assigned Chief Wahoo from their primary logo to their secondary logo in April 2016. The team made the Block C their new primary logo.
Since then, the team has removed the logo from essentially everything except for the uniforms.
The logo won’t be completely disappearing as the team is still maintaining a retail presence and will sell items that include the logo. Therefore, the team will still be profiting off the logo even though it won’t be on their uniforms.
According to ESPN sports business analyst, Darren Rovell, the reason for the continued sale of merchandise is so the team can retain the trade mark — they have to sell merchandise that bears the logo. This means that if they stopped selling merchandise with the logo on it, the next day, anyone could start selling merchandise using the logo.
Some people believe that the logo should be removed from the uniforms today, not in a year from now.
Michael Skladany, a professor in the department of criminology, anthropology and sociology at Cleveland State, is one of those people.
“Chief Wahoo should have been removed a long, long time ago,” Skladany said. “The one-year extension makes no sense to me either. The mascot should have been retired immediately.”
Skladany has had experience working with people and cultures both inside and outside of the United States.
“Traveling around the country, especially in Indian Country, I always was challenged to ‘explain’ the mascot. I never could say anything positive about it,” Skladany said. “Chief Wahoo is awful.”
The controversy surrounding the Chief Wahoo logo is nothing new and has been going on for years.
Every year, protesters gather outside of Progressive Field on Opening Day to voice their displeasure over the use of the logo.
The logo drew more attention than normal in the 2016 Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs when the Indians squared off with the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series (ALCS).
Douglas Cardinal, an activist and member of the Blackfoot tribe, tried to stop the Indians from using their team name and logo when they went to Toronto to play the Blue Jays in the ALCS. His efforts failed as a court rejected his attempt to block the Indians from using their name and logo.
Attention over the logo only grew when the Indians defeated the Blue Jays to advance to the World Series. The Indians took center stage in baseball’s biggest event of the year, and they made headlines not only for their play, but also for their logo.
The logo made headlines throughout the country on ESPN, in the Washington Post, The New York Times and other media outlets.
In April 2017, Rob Manfred, the commissioner of MLB, said that he wanted the Indians to “transition away” from the logo.
In the outfield, there are people who support the removal of the logo.
Jax Bivens, a senior and sports management major at Cleveland State, is one of those people.
“I think it’s degrading, it’s humiliating and me being not just a black man but also [having] Choctaw and Cheyenne in my family, it’s a mockery of an ethnic group. The logo itself, I’m offended by it, and I don’t understand it,” Bivens said. “I can deal with the name, I can deal with [the team] being called the ‘Tribe’ and the ‘Indians,’ I can deal with that, that’s fine. The logo is what I have problems with.”
Cameron Caputi, a junior and urban studies major at Cleveland State, is also in agreement that the logo should be removed.
“I am very against the use of the Chief Wahoo logo. Coming from Western New York, I grew up thinking of the Indians as a bigoted organization,” Caputi said. “I do not think they went far enough. I think that they need a name change and a total rebrand.”
There are others who see both sides of the situation.
Marnie Rodriguez, a professor in the department of criminology, anthropology and sociology at Cleveland State, sees both angles.
“I think it is a problem just because it is a character of a group of people who didn’t create it themselves. It’s not a realistic portrayal of a person, it’s not honoring a group. It’s seen as a character, and we know that people in the group find it to be demeaning and inhuman,” Rodriguez said. “It doesn’t really look like a human being, so it can kind of create that feeling of looking at the group as other or different or even maybe not even seeing that group as a human group.”
While Rodriguez agrees with the logo being removed, she also sees why some people want it to stick around.
“I understand that people in Cleveland want to keep the logo because it is part of their identity and they have grown up with it,” Rodriguez said. “To them, the meaning of the logo is not degrading.”
In the infield, there are others who disagree with the logo being removed from the uniforms.
Spencer Schultz, a senior and marketing major at Cleveland State, is one of those who want the logo to stay.
“I do not think that it is inherently racist. It was never made to discriminate or to be prejudiced towards Native Americans. We made The Chief a part of our homes and clothing we wore, it wasn’t looked down upon, it was idolized. If this was in fact the only way we are going to have an All-Star game here [in Cleveland], then it’s an okay trade off but only if we get a good new logo as well and don’t just stick with the boring Block C,” Schultz said. “The biggest point on the decision is that it’s just sad that everything we do has to be politicized or have an agenda. I know it’s not that simple, but in the realm of sports, let sports be sports.”
Mark Lombardo, a senior and history major at Cleveland State, also wants the logo to continue to be used by the team.
“I personally do not think that it is offensive. If there is a certain percent of the population that does view it as offensive, there certainly needs to be a conversation and come to some sort of compromise because you are not going to please everyone regardless of which way they decided to go,” Lombardo said. “The team did not drop the trademark and no one is talking about that. Is it offensive enough to remove Wahoo but not offensive enough to continue to profit from it?”