While Cleveland Indians’ fans may express a fondness for the cartoon caricature Chief Wahoo, many voices in Indian country have long fought against the stereotypical logo. On Monday, Major League Baseball (MLB) made an announcement that the Cleveland Indians will discontinue the use of the Chief Wahoo logo starting in 2019.
The decision was a mutual one between the MLB and the Indians franchise who have been in the spotlight the past several seasons due to their appearance in the MLB World Series’ games.
“Major League Baseball is committed to building a culture of diversity and inclusion throughout the game,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a release. “Over the past year, we encouraged dialogue with the Indians organization about the club’s use of the Chief Wahoo logo. During our constructive conversations, [Indians owner] Paul Dolan made clear that there are fans who have a long-standing attachment to the logo and its place in the history of the team.
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) January 29, 2018
“Nonetheless, the club 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 acknowledgement that removing it from the on-field uniform by the start of the 2019 season is the right course,” said Manfred.
Cleveland Indians owner Paul Dolan also issued a statement / response: “We have consistently maintained that we are cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the discussion,” said Dolan.”While we recognize many of our fans have a long-standing attachment to Chief Wahoo, I’m ultimately in agreement with Commissioner Manfred’s desire to remove the logo from our uniforms in 2019.”
The MLB and the Cleveland Indians have made the decision to have Chief Wahoo removed from the on-field uniforms starting 2019, yet the logo will have a minor retail presence in order for the Indians to maintain the trademark. This is a legal maneuver to ensure another group cannot seize it and profit from the Chief Wahoo logo.
According to the MLB site, the Cleveland Indians may consider a new logo in the future, but will promote the capital letter C for now. There are no current plans to change the Indians’ team name.
A strong force in Indian country, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) have already released a statement applauding the decision by the MLB and the Indians team owner.
“NCAI applauds today’s announcement by Major League Baseball that the league’s Cleveland franchise will retire the Chief Wahoo mascot and logo in 2019. NCAI has advocated for the eradication of offensive Native American-themed imagery from sports since 1968, and today’s announcement represents an important milestone for Indian Country in this effort.”
“NCAI has worked to educate Major League Baseball about this issue in recent years, sending several letters to the league highlighting the importance of removing this harmful mascot and logo, which resulted in a meeting with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred last year. Damaging imagery like the caricature of Chief Wahoo denigrates Native people and is harmful to their self-esteem, particularly for Native youth. Commissioner Manfred recognizes this fact, and thus kept his word, fulfilling his commitment to work with the team to retire the Chief Wahoo logo. NCAI commends Major League Baseball and Commissioner Manfred for choosing to stand on the right side of history.”
“Today’s announcement marks an important turning point for Indian Country and the harmful legacy of Indian mascots,” said NCAI President Jefferson Keel. “These mascots reduce all Native people into a single outdated stereotype that harms the way Native people, especially youth, view themselves. Today’s news is a big step in the right direction, but much work remains, and NCAI will press on with this struggle until every single one of these harmful mascots is gone from the sports landscape.”
The NCAI also asserted that the MLB is setting an example for how professional sports leagues can and should respect Native peoples.
“NCAI encourages all major professional sports leagues to follow the lead of Major League Baseball by retiring all offensive Native American-themed mascots, names, and imagery.”
“Over the past four decades, NCAI, hundreds of tribal nations, and their many partners have succeeding in eliminating more than two-thirds (roughly 2,000) of the Native-themed mascots from sports at all levels (nearly 1,000 remain today). NCAI is pleased to add the Chief Wahoo mascot and logo to that long list.”
For more information, please see NCAI’s Proud to Be Initiative to learn how you can join the movement to eliminate harmful Native-themed mascots from sports.
Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter