Chief Wahoo must go.
I’m not suggesting the Cleveland Indians should change their name. But their cartoon character mascot has overstayed his era.
Worst-case scenario, he should be redrawn or shown only in silhouette. Best-case scenario, dumped altogether.
Chief Wahoo represents an ideology of another time and decades of bigotry. His toothy smile and beady eyes are devoid of dignity.
There is nothing about him that conveys ferocity or intimidation in regard to athletic competition. Nothing about him represents Northeast Ohio save for a feeble incarnation of Louis Sockalexis, the first Native American to play major-league baseball with Cleveland in 1897. His skillful prowess prompted the team to be named the Indians in 1915.
I began thinking about Chief Wahoo in the wake of the Washington Redskins’ controversy and owner Daniel Snyder’s insistence he will “never” change the name despite mounting pressure, including from President Barack Obama. Surprisingly, the Indians’ mascot has been mentioned only casually by some critical of Snyder’s insistence on sticking with a racial slur as the team’s name.
But Chief Wahoo was on my mind long before this. Admittedly in the past, I wanted to collect him, not quash him.
I remember buying a sweatshirt at the Indians’ team shop in 1994 to commemorate the opening of Jacobs Field. I picked out one with a small Chief Wahoo above the heart, thinking he wouldn’t be around much longer. That was nearly 20 years ago.
I remember putting on a red Indians T-shirt, the front covered with a faint imprint of Chief Wahoo, while visiting a friend in the Southwest three or four years ago. At the time, it was one of my go-to vacation tops, taken to the beach or pool on countless trips. She said I should never wear the shirt in that part of the country again. It has since been relegated to at-home writing attire.
My opinion has also evolved on teams named Redskins. That was the nickname for my high school, Seneca, in Louisville, Ky. I wasn’t thrilled about it being changed to Red Hawks, only because it meant dumping mascot Lonesome Polecat, a character drawn by Al Capp in his Li’l Abner cartoon strip.
I need not have worried. While Seneca’s new logo is a hawk with wings spread, Lonesome Polecat has survived. His likeness is still carved above the school entrance, inlaid in the lobby floor and emblazoned on alumni gear sold on the school’s web site.
Something similar would happen with Chief Wahoo. Even if his likeness were removed from the team’s uniforms, he will still be around. Fans aren’t going to stop putting wooden Chief Wahoos in their front yards or wearing old Indians gear. Browns jerseys spotted in the stands at FirstEnergy Stadium bearing the names of past stars like Tim Couch and Brady Quinn are assurances of that.
Chief Wahoo is not going to be forgotten. But the Indians should stop flaunting him on their shirts and stop making money off a symbol of prejudice.
Yes, the Indians’ mascot is a caricature, as a friend argued, and that’s exactly the problem. When it comes to a comparison of mascots, Chief Wahoo is much more offensive than the Washington Redskins’ logo, a brown man with braided hair wearing a two-feathered headdress, even with the racial stereotype he embodies. He is solemn and noble, a far cry from Chief Wahoo, especially because of the Chief’s darn teeth.
It bothers me that the next generation of Indians fans will be outfitted in onesies stamped with bias. It bothers me they will overlook and accept such discrimination. It bothers me that Chief Wahoo doesn’t seem to bother the adults in Northeast Ohio now.
There does not need to be demonstrations outside Progressive Field for the Indians to disassociate themselves from Chief Wahoo. They don’t need to be flooded with letters or emails from American Indians. Just because that’s not happening doesn’t mean Chief Wahoo isn’t offensive.
The Indians aren’t the only baseball team that could have decisions to make. The Atlanta Braves, who have a tomahawk as part of their logo, could be talking, too, although eliminating the Tomahawk Chop might be out of their control. The Indians were prepared for the question but had no comment on the issue Friday, refusing to reveal whether internal discussions were taking place.
I wish getting rid of Chief Wahoo didn’t carry the negative stereotype of political correctness. I wish it were considered correct, period. I wish it were regarded as acknowledging a growing awareness for the feelings of others. That probably would not be the case, with rabid area sports fans likely to denounce such a decision.
A change by the Indians when relatively unprovoked would make a passionate statement against racism, especially if done while criticism swirls around the Redskins. Snyder might never get that, but the Indians still can.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.