We’re supposed to be heartened by the Cleveland Indians’ announcement that the team will further reduce its use of Chief Wahoo, an offensive racial caricature that serves as its logo. But frankly, it’s hard to get excited. Given that the team acknowledges the image is odious to many people, why not just scrap it altogether?
Chief Wahoo is a grinning, red-skinned caricature of a Native American that has adorned the baseball team’s uniforms, hats and souvenirs for decades. The name derives from a 1930s comic strip laden with all sorts of stereotypes and derogatory portrayals, though the first Cleveland Indians incarnation of the image arose after World War II.
The team has moved toward a more benign logo – a block letter “C” – yet it still puts the caricature on the players’ uniform sleeve. And the team sells mementos bearing the image, from shot glasses to watches to purses, profiting from something they should see as an embarrassment. Team part-owner and chief executive Paul Dolan has said that he has “empathy for those who take issue with” the logo and that the team has “minimized the use of it and we'll continue to do what we think is appropriate.”
At least Dolan recognizes that the logo is problematic, which puts him ahead of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who has refused to rename his football team. But it’s silly for Dolan to simultaneously acknowledge the problem and then cling to it for the sake of team history. The team, and the league, should do better, and consign this history to where it belongs: a museum.