Opinion | #KeepTheChief

Is the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo logo really racist?

By on February 13, 2018

The Cleveland Indians announced on Jan. 29 that they will be removing the iconic Chief Wahoo logo from Progressive field and player uniforms beginning in 2019.

Since the 1970s, Chief Wahoo was seen as a racist and offensive image to many people. The only reason Chief Wahoo is still found on merchandise is so Major League Baseball and the Indians can maintain the trademark. The whole discussion of Chief Wahoo offending people has me rolling my eyes.

“Major League Baseball is committed to building a culture of diversity and inclusion throughout the game,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said according to NPR.

Great move by the MLB to build an inclusive culture in the game by removing the iconic Native American logo. Although I am not as involved in my heritage as I wish I was, I remain proud to be Native American. Obviously, there are Native groups that are offended by Chief Wahoo, and many other people who hopped on the complain train just to have their voices heard, but I still see the entire situation as ridiculous.

Chief Wahoo was inspired by a comic, a caricature, in a Cleveland newspaper in the late 1940’s.

The racist and offensive accusations come from Chief Wahoo’s red skin color. The term redskin comes from the French phrase peau rouge which translates to red skin, according to Dictionary.com. A redskin is simply a Native American Indian.

“Through the early part of the 19th century, American Indians continued to use their native word self-referentially, and it was translated into spoken and written English as redskin with no derogatory connotations, even as a term of respect,” according to Dictionary.com.

People are offended by a picture from 70 years ago, that is seen only as its connotation rather than its true meaning. To me, that sounds like the issue lies in the communication of the real meaning of words.

“Social Justice Warriors claim another victim. RIP Chief Wahoo,” Junson Chan (@realjunsonchan) tweeted on Jan. 29.

Nowadays, anyone can claim to be offended by anything. Allowing people to claim offense to something to the point that is changes American culture, should not be permissible. Our culture is who we are, and Chief Wahoo is who the Cleveland Indians are.

I’m not sure why Native Americans are not honored by the fact that they are among the few groups in America to have multiple sports teams named after them: The Indians, The Braves, The Warriors, The Redskins, The Chiefs. Even collegiate mascots across the nation have Native roots: the Florida State Seminoles, the University of Utah Utes, the Central Michigan University Chippewas. All of these teams are inspired by Native Americans. I see it as a way of honoring the indigenous people of America.

Manfred is also quoted saying that the Chief Wahoo logo is no longer appropriate for use on the field. First the NFL gives in to Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem and now the MLB is giving in to what Zach Sharon, of Cleveland Sports Talk, describes as a “politically correct society that we are now all forced to live in.”

Not only has Chief Wahoo been under fire, the Indians’ name has been pushed to be changed for just as long. Colleges across the country, including Quinnipiac, also changed their Native names in recent years. Quinnipiac changed its name from the Braves to the Bobcats in 2001 and the St. John’s Redmen became the St. John’s Storm in 1994, according to The New York Times. I would have to say the day that the MLB changes the name of the Cleveland Indians, is the day I stop watching baseball.

I mean, should the Los Angeles Angels have to change their name because not every religion believes in angelic entities? Are the San Diego Padres offensive to people of spanish and hispanic descent? Why not change the name of the Minnesota Vikings too? Don’t forget about the Boston Celtics and Notre Dame Fighting Irish who “demean” Irishmen. The Montreal Canadiens are offensive to every person living in Canada I assume too, right? Are the New Jersey Devils offensive to those who follow God?

That’s too far. These teams, their logos and the communities they build are part of America’s culture. Our teams are a major part of who we are in our communities. Sports teams give us a place to identify. Indians fans support the Tribe.

In fact, passionate Indians fans, even Native Americans, have taken to Twitter to express their condolences for Cleveland’s loss.

“The #Indians need to win the World Series this season, so Chief Wahoo is emblazoned across the world and captured in photos and videos as a champion for posterity,” tweeted BuckGuy (@BuckGuy2)

Other fans have commented at the Indians organization on behalf of the Chief.

“Thanks for telling me, a proud Native American, how I feel. I took pride in Chief Wahoo but since you wanted to make yourself feel better, you told me it hurt my feelings. I hope you will learn to keep your head down and focus on yourself, stop controlling others,” Eric Barnes (@ericbar52318292) tweeted response to Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) and the Cleveland Indians (@Indians).

Other common tweets included: “Long live Chief Wahoo” and “R.I.P. Chief Wahoo.”

I hope that Clevelanders will continue to wear their Chief Wahoo merchandise with pride. Even non-Indians fans support Chief Wahoo’s legacy.

“I don’t even like the Indians but I might buy a hat before Chief Wahoo is gone,” Brutas Sacrifice III (@BrutasSacrifice) tweeted.

As Babe Ruth once said, “Heroes are remembered, but legends never die.”

Chief Wahoo will always be a part of Cleveland and a part of the MLB; no protests can wipe his wide smile off of baseball history. Chief Wahoo will live in the hearts of true baseball fans and Clevelanders forever. Baseball is America’s game, Native Americans are America’s people and Chief Wahoo is America’s Chief.

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About Nicholas Slater

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