Is It Time To Move On From Chief Wahoo?


Written by @CST_RickG

Earlier this week, in a landmark decision, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rescinded the federal trademark protection for the Redskin’s name. However, this isn’t the first time the U.S. Patent office has come after the Washington Redskins.  In 1999 they attempted to do the same thing, and the decision was later reversed. Only twice on record has the office tried to use its power to strip away a trademark for being offensive to an ethnic group, and both cases involved the Redskins.

The debate about offensive team names has always been on the back burner of certain political agendas. However, it seems that in the very “politically correct” culture that we live in today, this issue may drive some teams to actually change their team names. The question that follows is two-fold; should teams with “offensive” names change them, and is it the government’s job to force the issue? For the sake of this article, I am going to focus on the question of; should the Indians change their name. The government issue is one I can save for another day.

In 1915, Cleveland officially changed their name from the Naps to the Indians. The origin of the name Indians isn’t quite clear. It’s loosely based on Louis Sockalexis, who was reportedly the first Native American to play in the MLB. Sockalexis was an outfielder for the Cleveland Spiders for three seasons. Also, it’s reported that management chose the new name based on the name of the Boston Braves, then known as the “Miracle Braves” after going from last place on July 4 to a sweep in the 1914 World Series. (Information via Wikipedia and MLB Indians History).

Today, the Indians are less in the media eye for their name than other teams like the Redskins and Blackhawks. The name Indians itself isn’t necessarily what angers protestors. This seems to be a very small minority. What primarily angers people is Chief Wahoo and when non-American Indians dress, in their own interpretation of an Indian. The Cleveland Indians have already taken a very subtle approach to weeding out the use of Chief Wahoo. Starting in 2014 the primary logo of the Indians has been changed to the Red Block C. It is clear the team understands that the less Chief Wahoo is used, the less negative media attention they will attract.

On the Indians website, Chief Wahoo is already minimized, displaying only two images of the mascot. One is on the helmet of Nick Swisher, which is on the artistic back ground of the site, and the other is on the bottom left side of the page. There is only one game hat that the team wears with the chief anymore, worn with 2 of their 4 uniforms. Those uniforms also have the chief on the sleeve. All in all, it seems the Indians are making quiet efforts to ditch the iconic Chief Wahoo.

I will agree that Chief Wahoo may seem like a ridiculously racist caricature to certain types of people. However, I do not see him as racist and offensive, but simply a symbol for a baseball team. The Indians are on the right path considering the government is becoming more involved with these issues. I think it would be beneficial for the team to eventually retire Chief Wahoo. This makes the media attention more about baseball and less about politics. I don’t believe the Indians will end up changing their name as easily. The term “Indian” is not a racial slur. That is a battle that the team should and will fight against.

I think that the quiet retirement of Chief Wahoo is a good thing. I want to emphasize the word quietly. Making a big public gesture about retiring Chief Wahoo is unnecessary and simply calls attention to the team for attentions sake. A large public spectacle will only make fan the flames of this discussion. Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Redskins, has publically defended his stance about not changing the name. While I agree with Snyder and his right to name the team Redskins, I don’t think his media stance is helping the cause. In the end, I would rather see the Indians stay as the Indians, than be in a public fight about Chief Wahoo and lose both. This is a good place for a pun about chiefs sacrificing themselves for the good of the tribe, but it just seemed too easy.

Written by Rick Giavonette

Follow me on Twitter: @CST_RickG



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