The MLB announced today that the beloved-by-some-yet-highly-controversial Cleveland Indians logo will be gone after the upcoming season. Chief Wahoo, the big-toothed, smiling red-faced mascot of the Ohio team will no longer grace team apparel.
Interestingly, the racially-insensitive logo came about years after the team became the Indians. Originally created in 1894, the team first played as the Grand Rapids Rustlers, then became the Cleveland Lake Shores, Cleveland Bluebirds, Cleveland Blues, and Cleveland Napoleons, or Naps for short. They finally became the Cleveland Indians in 1915, nearly twenty years later. For over a decade, the team played under a name Christopher Columbus would’ve approved of, but their logo remained a blue ‘C,’ presumably to keep it simple after the plethora of name changes. The first depiction of a Native American as the team’s logo wasn’t until 1928, and the illustrations became increasingly inappropriate as the years went on.
As statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson come down around the country, other teams across the league are making similar changes in an effort to distance themselves from unsavory chapters in their histories. The Braves are in a similar situation, having used depictions of Native Americans throughout their tenures in Boston, Milwaukee, and now Atlanta.
The Red Sox recently announced their intention to rename Yawkey Way, named for legendary owner and Fenway Park-rebuilder Tom Yawkey. Yawkey was a known racist who intentionally prevented the team from integrating for years, leaving Boston in the dust as other teams signed players like Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. Yawkey passed on signing Robinson, and the Red Sox were the last team in the MLB to field black players.
I respect the Indians’ decision to say goodbye to Chief Wahoo. Native Americans have been protesting the name and logo for years, and rightfully so. It’s not just the imagery, but the name, too. Though Chief Wahoo has been a secondary logo since 2014, with the franchise bringing back the ‘C,’ the team has no plans to change their name. Understandably, this won’t be enough for people whose ancestors saw their land stolen from them by people who, even now, disrespect their culture while simultaneously distorting and appropriating it for monetary gain. Some teams have animals or Green Monsters as their mascots; Cleveland turning an entire people into a team’s mascot only adds insult to the injuries Americans have inflicted on Native Americans over the past centuries.
While the nostalgic side of me will be sad to see the Yawkey Way sign come down, it’s the right thing to do moving forward, same as the Indians are finally doing the right thing. To franchises struggling to reconcile their team’s essence with the changing times, I’ll simply leave you with this tweet, because if it looks like this, it’s probably not okay:
I never had a particularly strong Chief Wahoo take, but this picture always felt like the argument-ender pic.twitter.com/P1KpiaVNQm
— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) January 29, 2018