Many American Indians find Chief Wahoo to be a silly-looking caricature and does not represent American Indian culture well.
Published September 27, 2018
For a long time, one of the most offensive logos in American sports (and surprisingly there are quite a few) flew under the radar. The Cleveland Indians’ “Chief Wahoo” – a cartoonish, grinning, beet red caricature of an American Indian – has simply existed on caps and uniforms, in video games, and on a range of other team-branded merchandise and content. It wasn’t a unique logo, and in fact there is always some debate over sports names and logos that touch on Native American culture. However, it’s arguably the most overtly absurd of the bunch. And when the Indians suddenly became a formidable baseball team a few years ago, making a run to the World Series in 2016, it sparked a wave of criticism from multiple places. While there are still those who argue it’s simply a cartoon, and wasn’t designed with the intent to offend, the simple fact that it’s a racist caricature seems to be winning out.
We can say the anti-Wahoo sentiments are winning out because we learned this year that the organization will in fact be phasing out the logo following the current season. Or at least, it will be starting to. Chief Wahoo will not appear on any official uniforms or anywhere in the Indians’ stadium beginning in 2019, though it sounds as if some merchandise with the logo – which is now nearly 70 years old – will still be sold. It’s a step in the right direction, at least.
Before Chief Wahoo is gone however, the logo is likely to spark another wave of criticism and debate this fall. As mentioned, the Indians’ rise to prominence in 2016 sparked a fresh wave of talk the logo, as the team had been largely mediocre for the majority of seasons over prior decades. Well, now much of the 2016 team is still in place, and arguably better than it was two years ago. The World Series is in less than 30 days, and while the oddsmakers are still taking bets, it’s clear that Cleveland will be among the favorites, with a good chance to make it back to the series known as the Fall Classic. It will need to play strong baseball to do so, given that the American League has – arguably – the top four teams in all of baseball. But the current Indians have the balance to go to the World Series and make another run at securing a championship for Cleveland.
If that happens it means that even in the logo’s final months as an official part of the Indians franchise, we’ll be seeing a lot of it. The Indians could well become one of the biggest stories in American sports in October, and there’s a real chance that Chief Wahoo will wrap up a 67-year run with a World Series title. This, in a way, may seem disappointing. It might be best for all who are currently or have ever been offended by the logo that it simply disappear. At the same time however, the current Cleveland Indians players and management really have nothing to do with it. And in a way, if this team wins the World Series, it may actually end up shining a brighter spotlight not just on Chief Wahoo, but on the fact that he’s being retired. And in the end there is an argument that this could also be looked at as the best case scenario. Ultimately the ore people understand why this is unacceptable, the less likely similarly offensive things will be accepted in the future.
So, root for the Indians or don’t depending on which of those scenarios seems best to you. Either way, Chief Wahoo is indeed being phased out of Major League Baseball.