Chief Wahoo’s Demise: A Difficult, but Necessary Step Forward


Like many of you reading this story, I was utterly shocked upon hearing the news that the Indians would be completely phasing out the use of Chief Wahoo after this upcoming season.

This means that, starting in 2019, the only place that fans will officially see the Chief will be through apparel sold at Progressive Field and other stores in the region, which still gives the Indians the opportunity to profit from this controversial image.

Like many, I had extremely conflicting emotions upon hearing this news.

Chief Wahoo and his various depictions have been part of Indians lore for more than 80 years.

Originally conceived by the Plain Dealer in 1932 as a way to recap the previous day’s game via a comic strip, it was adopted officially by the franchise in 1947, utilizing yellow skin and more stereotypical features.

In 1951, this version was changed  to the one we know of today, switching out the yellow for red skin and making the nose slightly less cartoonish in size, among other changes.

Wahoo’s iconic presence, in one form or another, is one of the threads connecting the several eras of illustrious Indians history together, becoming an image that has become synonymous with the franchise.

I can remember getting my first real Indians hat when I was five years old, with the caricature on the front filling me with pride and enthusiasm for my team.

Many other fans can certainly relate to these warm feelings, with the Chief being something as integral to the city’s sports identity as heartbreaking losses and undying loyalty.

However, as I began to grow older and see the controversy surrounding Chief Wahoo, I began to see it for just what it was: a logo and an offensive one at that.

A logo that, despite being implemented by a relatively progressive owner in Bill Veeck, has not aged well.

The exaggerated features, unrealistically red skin, goofy smile and general cartoonish appearance all come off as poorly implemented stereotypes.

This is contrary to the spirit of the game, which has grown more inclusive and diverse over time.

It conjures up images of an era that America has, for the most part, left behind, given that a logo like this would an unmitigated PR disaster if proposed today.

All of these things make the Chief extremely demeaning to Native Americans who, according to some estimates, account for an estimated 0.27% of the population of Ohio and 2% of the United States’ total population.

This lack of representation is, conceivably, the only reason it took so long for the team to eliminate Chief Wahoo, considering there have been protests to change the logo and team name since the early 1970s.

Even knowing this information, I saw several fans on Twitter bemoaning the change as a sign that the team has gone “soft.”

I also saw many fans vow to boycott merchandise, games, or a combination of both.

To those fans, I say this: If you are angry about the end of Chief Wahoo, you should continue supporting the team, attending as many games as possible, all while rocking the iconic symbol in the process.

After all, the team will still continue selling merchandise emblazoned with this image and there is no obscenity law barring you from wearing this merchandise to games.

However, you should be aware of the immense backlash this could cause, making any success from the team this year dogged by questions about the conduct of its fans.

Just as pressure forced the Indians to abandon the logo, your presence at games, keeping Chief Wahoo and its history visible and alive will make sure he lives long past his official “demise.”

The only way that Chief Wahoo dies is if you let it die and there is nothing that anyone who disagrees with you, myself included, can do if you show up to games repping the Chief.

To those who say the Block C is a terrible replacement for this iconic image, I actually agree with you.

The team should begin to formulate a new logo ASAP because this generic, bland monstrosity simply will not cut it going forward.

To those that say that this action will culminate with the Indians changing their name: There is little chance of this happening, given that CEO Paul Dolan says than Commissioner Rob Manfred is “supportive” of the name as well as the fact that other MLB teams with similar roots, such as the Atlanta Braves, have not yet caved in to similar pressure.

To those that say that the Dolans and the franchise got screwed out of their history, this measure was adopted as part of a compromise, with the Indians phasing out the logo, but keeping the valuable merchandising rights.

If anything, this compromise saved what little chance this franchise had of preserving its history, as controversial as it may be.

There is also speculation that this compromise was also reached to ensure that the MLB All-Star Game remains in Cleveland in 2019, which, if true, is a move for the better.

We all remember the debate over North Carolina’s House Bill 2, a bill which mandated that transgender individuals use the restroom that corresponded with their birth sex.

This legislation caused an upheaval that consumed the whole country, compelling the NBA to move the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans in the process.

Not only did this result in the interweaving of politics and sports (which should never occur), it caused the city of Charlotte to lose out on millions of dollars in economic benefits, as well as a prideful opportunity to showcase both their city and NBA franchise.

By reaching an agreement on the Chief Wahoo issue before it began to develop into a larger controversy, the Dolans kept politics out of sports, ensuring that the 2019 All-Star Game will not only stay in Cleveland, but be a massive success for both the city and the Indians organization.

If this doesn’t sound like something that is willing to sacrifice Chief Wahoo over, I don’t know what is.

All-Star showcases do not get offered to Cleveland very often, which makes capitalizing on them an opportunity too good to ruin in the name of politics.

Additionally, Chief Wahoo was relegated to a seldom-used, secondary logo in 2016, which makes this trade-off a very worthwhile endeavor.

Even given all of this, I still feel somewhat conflicted about this issue. After all, I did grow up with this iconic image, and its absence from the Indians will be very noticeable for quite awhile.

However, changes for the better are often not easy to implement or adjust to.

In order to move forward and secure a better future, we sometimes need to sacrifice relics of an outdated past, which makes the end of Chief Wahoo a difficult, but ultimately necessary measure.

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