Categorized | Sports

Chief Wahoo may have sentimental value to some, but is only racist

The year 1951 was, to say the least, not a particularly good time for political correctness. While many industries have moved on from the racist, homophobic and sexist marketing strategies that were ubiquitous in the era of the ad-men, American professional sports teams have often been unforgivably slow to follow suit. The Cleveland Indians organization has been one of the worst offenders. Their infamous Chief Wahoo logo —bright-red face and all — was first introduced in that year, and it was not until January of this year that the Indians organization, under pressure from Major League Baseball, made the decision to remove the offensive caricature from game-day jerseys, effective next season.

While this is certainly progress, it is simply not enough. While the logo will no longer appear on jerseys, the team has retained all trademarks related to Chief Wahoo, and will continue to sell other forms of apparel emblazoned with the controversial character. While the organization may be eliminating the logo from the playing field, it will continue to monetize the casual racism that so many Cleveland baseball fans have been desensitized to on account of its perceived “cultural value.”

Looking at the logo from a third-party perspective, it is easy to see that this logo is an unacceptable caricature of Native Americans, who have been continuously oppressed since the day that Europeans first set foot on the American continent. If that’s the case, then why has it had such staying power? Paul Hoynes, a beat writer covering the Indians for Cleveland.com, offered his take on why he believed that the logo should stay in his weekly column: “I still like Chief Wahoo and I don’t think my opinion will ever change on that. To me it means baseball and going to the old stadium when I was growing up.” Reading through social media discussions of the subject, this appears to be a perspective shared by many fans in favor of keeping the logo.

While it may carry sentimental value to many fans, it is a source of shame and disgust for many others. This is made quite clear by the annual anti-Chief Wahoo protests that have been held at every Indians opening day game for the last 25 years. Protesters this year were met with ire by many fans, with a Cleveland.com article reporting instances of shouting matches between fans and protesters ranging from chants of “Keep the chief,” to questions like, “What do you want? You already won.” The problem here is with the motivations of each side. The protesters gathered to protect the dignity of an oppressed people, while outraged fans were venting their frustration about their home team discontinuing the use of racial caricature that, because of its familiarity, conveniently came to mean baseball rather than racism in their minds.

While absolute moral judgements are seldom viable, it is not difficult to see who is in the right here. It does not matter what a symbol means to you if it is hurtful to others. The same discussion has repeated itself again and again with the Confederate flag, Civil War monuments, etc., but the principle remains the same: it is much easier and more ethical to give up an offensive symbol than it is to defend it to the bitter end to ensure the preservation of “tradition.” If a tradition is rooted in bold-faced racism, it is not worth preserving. Native Americans are people, not mascots, and it should be easier to stop wearing your racist T-shirt than to continue supporting a symbol of white supremacy.

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