Over the past few years, the Cleveland Indians have decreased their use of “Chief Wahoo,” the team’s longtime logo that depicts a caricature of a grinning Native American man. However, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred would like to see the Indians go further and “transition away” from the polarizing image altogether.
The issue, in which Chief Wahoo remains popular among many Indians fans but generates protests among Native American groups and others, gained renewed attention during last year’s World Series, which Cleveland lost in seven games to the Chicago Cubs. Saying, “I know that that particular logo is offensive to some people,” Manfred indicated at the time that he planned to meet with Indians owner Paul Dolan to discuss the topic.
“Thus far, there have been productive discussions with the Cleveland Indians regarding the Commissioner’s desire to transition away from the Chief Wahoo logo,” MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said Wednesday in a statement (via the Associated Press). “We have specific steps in an identified process and are making progress.”
At the start of the 2016 season, Dolan said that his team would use its “Block C” logo as its “primary mark.” However, Chief Wahoo, which has been in use since the 1940s, remained on some Indians caps and jerseys, and the team has continued to sell other merchandise with that image.
— clevelanddotcom (@clevelanddotcom) April 11, 2017
During the Indians’ home opener Tuesday, about two dozen protesters (per cleveland.com) gathered at Progressive Field to encourage the Dolan family to get rid of Chief Wahoo. “We are people, not mascots, not logos, not imagery,” Carla Getz, a member of the Potawatomi Tribe, told the AP. Such protests have been occurring for more than 20 years in Cleveland.
“Chief Wahoo does not represent anybody that I know or anybody in my tribe or in my family,” Getz said. “That is someone’s interpretation of what we are, and all that does is diminish us in the eyes of the public. Here we are in 2017, we’re not logos. And we’ve got people telling us, ‘but you are.’ ”
Most fans arriving for the game ignored the protesters but some took issue with their complaint, occasionally in vulgar terms. “They need a hobby, like stringing beads,” one man wearing an Indians jersey said, in video from cleveland.com that can be seen below. (Warning: profanity.)
“We certainly understand the sensitivities of the logo, those who find it insensitive and also those fans who have a long standing attachment to its place in the history of the team,” Bob DiBiasio, the team’s senior vice president for public affairs, said in a statement.
“We fully expect to work with the Commissioner throughout the remainder of this season on finding a solution that is good for the game and our organization,” DiBiasio added. “Our primary focus right now is on the team and our pursuit of returning to the postseason.”
“Chief Wahoo is the Cleveland Indians,” an Indians fan at Progressive Field on Tuesday told the New York Times. “I think there comes a time when you have to take a stand for what you believe in. I don’t think it’s hurting anybody.”
Assuming they agree to phase out Chief Wahoo — Dolan called the image “part of our history and legacy” last year — the Indians would likely want to do so after this season, if only to avoid even bigger protests from fans who want to keep the logo. The team could also be concerned about taking a step that may decrease attendance during a season for which it has the highest of hopes.
However, Philip Yenyo, executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, told the AP that he’d be happy to see Chief Wahoo dropped, but ideally, the Indians would change their name, as well. He said the team may not be realizing the potential profit in doing so, saying, “If they change the name, people will be rushing to get what’s in their stores before it’s gone. And then you would have a new market with a new logo, and that’s going to bring in more money.”
“There are Little League teams that are changing their names, high school teams that are changing their names,” Yenyo said. “A couple colleges have done it. To see that happening is great, but I think the momentum would be a lot better if major league teams would change their names, and they can do it.”
The Indians are almost certainly not strongly considering a name change at the moment, but it appears that the club is moving toward fulfilling Manfred’s desire to see Chief Wahoo phased out. That may anger some fans, but as long as the team continues its recent success, sales of Block C merchandise in Cleveland should be brisk.