The Cleveland Indians will stop using their controversial Chief Wahoo logo in 2019, Major League Baseball and the team announced Monday, putting to end a will-they-or-won’t-they that’s carried on for the last two years.
The league has deemed that Wahoo — a Native American caricature that many people think is racist — is “no longer appropriate” and the Indians ultimately agreed. The move is sure to ratchet up the debate about Native American icons being used in pro sports, like with the NFL’s Washington Redskins.
Chief Wahoo has been a fixture in Cleveland since the 1940s, but as David Waldstein of The New York Times writes, his days are now numbered. He gets one more year in Cleveland.
Citing a goal of diversity and inclusion, Manfred said in a statement provided to The New York Times that the Indians organization “ultimately agreed with my position that the logo is no longer appropriate for on-field use in Major League Baseball, and I appreciate Mr. Dolan’s acknowledgment that removing it from the on-field uniform by the start of the 2019 season is the right course.”
Cleveland has been edging away from the logo in recent years and has used it less frequently, but beginning in 2019 it will not be seen at all on the team’s uniforms, or on banners and signs in Progressive Field, the team’s stadium. Consumers will still be able to purchase items with the logo on them at the team’s souvenir shops in the stadium and at retail outlets in the northern Ohio market, but those items will not be available for sale on M.L.B.’s website.
“We have consistently maintained that we are cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the discussion,” Dolan said in a statement issued by M.L.B. “While we recognize many of our fans have a longstanding attachment to Chief Wahoo, I’m ultimately in agreement with Commissioner Manfred’s desire to remove the logo from our uniforms in 2019.”
One thing that won’t be changing is the team’s name. That’s also something protesters have aimed at — many of whom show up every year on opening day — but the team and MLB say the Indians name isn’t going anywhere. Just Chief Wahoo.
The Indians have, in recent years, scaled back their usage of Wahoo by introducing a different primary logo, the Block C. Still, Wahoo has remained a part of the team’s uniforms even after being demoted — either as a patch on their shoulders or on alternative uniforms and caps.
This issue has been around for years, but took on a bigger life when the Indians made the World Series in 2016. It was after that Manfred began saying Chief Wahoo was something the team and the league had to deal with. That spilled into 2017 and now 2018, as Manfred said he’d hoped to get a decision made before the new season begins.
What’s happening now is basically a phasing out of Chief Wahoo. He’s around for one more year, which will likely appease some of the Indians fans who genuinely like and appreciate the logo. Some fans come to games in Native American headdresses or in red face. They say it’s a way of honoring Native Americans. Those fans will still be upset, but it will better than Wahoo going away opening day 2018.
According to The Times report, fans won’t be entirely frozen out. The Wahoo logo will still be used on souvenirs for sale at the stadium and in the Cleveland area, but that’s it. Those items won’t be for sale online at MLB.com’s shop. And, of course, there’s nothing to stop a fan from wearing an old Chief Wahoo hat to a game. It’s just the players on the field who won’t be wearing them.
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