Indians make right decision to move away from Chief Wahoo
It’s interesting how a little logo can create so much discussion.
Earlier this week, the Cleveland Indians announced that after the upcoming season, they would no longer be using Chief Wahoo on their hats or uniforms.
They’ll still market the logo. They’ll still sell the logo. They don’t want to lose rights to the logo, so, hold the congratulations. But it will be gone from the uniforms.
Teams change the look of their merchandise all the time. The Cavaliers seem to change color schemes every nine months.
But for some reason, this is different.
Chief Wahoo — or at least early variations of him — has been a part of the Indians since the 1930s. The caricature had been used on the hats a few times, but never as prominently as in 1986, when the team ditched the “C” it had been using and put Wahoo on the hats and helmets.
To hear some tell it, taking away Wahoo is like taking away part of someone’s past. Their memories. The culture of their team.
Thing is, I remember it a little differently.
When the Indians put the cartoon character on the hats and helmets, I thought it was cool. Cultural sensitivity wasn’t really my thing at the time. Of course, when the hats were introduced, I was 5.
But I do remember that while I was enthralled with the logo, some adults I knew were not.
My mother, for instance
Anyone who has read this column for any period of time knows that my mom is a huge Indians fan.
And in 1986, while I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a Chief Wahoo batting helmet, she sounded the alarm.
“I think,” she told me, “they took the ‘C’ off the hats because they might be moving.”
In 1986, the Indians were in limbo. Steve O’Neill, the team’s previous owner, had died in 1983. The Jacobs brothers hadn’t bought the team yet, and there was real concern that removing the Cleveland “C” as a primary logo was only a prelude to a move.
Of course, that didn’t happen. The Jacobs brothers bought the franchise. The Indians stayed in Cleveland. They had great teams in the 1990s, and the Chief Wahoo logo was a big part of their marketing and merchandising.
By the time the Indians became a contender, I was a teenager. By then, there was talk about changing the logo.
Some found it offensive. But I didn’t care. All I cared about was baseball. It wasn’t so much that I approved of the goofy cartoon character. It was just that it was what I knew. Chief Wahoo represented something I loved, and still love. In the last quarter century, I have collected so much Chief Wahoo stuff. Hats, jackets, sweaters, even watches.
For a long time, I dismissed those who wanted to change the logo, or the Indians name. I wondered how much of the complaining came from actual Native Americans, and how much came from the hyper-sensitive politically correct types who had no connection to that culture.
Twenty years later, those opinions have changed.
The Wahoo logo is unnecessary. Native Americans protest every home opener. They are offended by it. Maybe not all, but some. And you know what? They have a right to be.
Caricatures of other races or would never be tolerated. Maybe the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame is an exception, but that seems — Max Kellerman’s opinion notwithstanding — to be a point of pride.
The Tribe has gradually been wearing the block “C” on its hats and helmets again. It hasn’t changed the game or the team. When the logo is gone from the uniforms, the Cleveland baseball team will still be the Cleveland baseball team.
So I’m fine with retiring Wahoo. Changing the name “Indians” would provide more of a jolt, but again, times change. I’m fine with a name change so long as the color scheme remains (I prefer the “Spiders” as a replacement).
The name may one day be different, but the team doesn’t have to be. We’ll get by.
Some will ask what will change next. When will the over-the-top political correctness — as some see it — be stopped?
But altering names and logos for changing times is hardly a new concept. In the 1950s, the Cincinnati Reds decided they’d rather be called the “Redlegs.” It just wasn’t good business to be called the Reds while Joseph McCarthy was holding hearings and people were frightened of communism.
Sometimes meanings to names are called into question. While most accept that the Cleveland Browns were named after Paul Brown, it was at least floated that the name came not from the football coach, but from the “Brown Bomber” Joe Louis, the famous heavyweight boxer.
If that were true, that name would have to be changed.
Just like when they moved to Baltimore.
No one knows where our sensitivities will take us. But I refuse to believe that’s always a bad thing.
The fact is, if someone today suggested a logo like Chief Wahoo for a brand, it wouldn’t even make it through the planning stages.
Few thought that way 80 years ago, or even 32 years ago. But maybe we should think that way now. There are thousands of names and logos out there that don’t and won’t offend people. So why cling to one that does?
I don’t believe that people who want to keep Wahoo are racist. They just want to hang on to something they grew fond of.
That’s their opinion.
Truthfully, a turning point for me came when the Indians were in the World Series in 2016. My team was on an incredible run. Playing great. People were believing.
But the discussion about the logo came up. And it continued.
Suddenly, all I wanted was to talk about Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor.
And this little logo was getting in the way.
And Chief Wahoo’s time is running out.
As it should be.
Zach Baker is the sports editor for the Advertiser-Tribune.
Contact him at:
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Zachthewriter