I’ve been ambivalent on the Chief Wahoo logo of the Cleveland Indians. Some native Americans find it offensive, but protests are infrequent and not strong. Many fans of the baseball team support the logo.
The Indians announced the other day that they will drop the Chief Wahoo logo from the team’s uniforms starting next year.
The team will continue selling merchandise featuring Chief Wahoo after that time to protect its trademark. Otherwise, anyone could use the logo for any purpose they desire.
I have an Indians T-shirt with Chief Wahoo on it. I’ll continue to wear it.
I’m not making a political statement. I’m supporting a baseball team.
Perhaps one reason I’m ambivalent is that Indians owner Paul Dolan also hasn’t taken a strong stand on the logo. He agreed to drop it from uniforms next year only after persuasive talks – over several years – with Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.
The fact that Cleveland will host the 2019 All-Star Game forced Dolan’s hand, I’m sure. Baseball doesn’t want to offend anyone. Manfred doesn’t want to see protests outside Progressive Field during baseball’s marquee event (outside of the World Series), so he convinced Dolan to avoid that possibility.
Manfred, like the rest of us, has seen what divisive issues have done to the National Football League in the past couple of years. A simple kneeling during the National Anthem has taken on a life of its own, and cost the league viewers and untold goodwill.
Whether the kneeling was correct, politically correct or wrong doesn’t matter, at least to baseball. The issue became divisive, and the NFL is the lightning rod.
Baseball wants to avoid that scenario at all costs.
But not all team logos, including native American logos, are treated equally. Not by a long shot. We’ll stick to professional sports here.
Exhibit A, and you knew this was coming: the Washington Redskins and their Indian head.
Most people are not ambivalent about the Redskins name and logo, calling them racist. Why do activists not push harder to change them?
It’s simple: politics.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder adamantly supports the Redskins name and logo. Opponents would face a loud and protracted fight against him.
The Indians became a much easier target.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in response this week to the Indians’ announcement, said he won’t pressure Snyder to change anything about the Redskins.
Goodell repeatedly cited a Washington Post poll in which the majority of native Americans surveyed said they do not find Washington’s team name or logo offensive. He added that the league doesn’t “hear this very much from our fans” on the issue and said Snyder is unlikely to change the name.
The league must not be listening very hard. Or, more likely, with Snyder’s strong position, opponents are looking for more winnable battles.
So, they turned to the Cleveland Indians, where the opposition (team owner Dolan) was lukewarm and the league is less combative.
Are Chief Wahoo and the “Indians” name truly more racist than the logo and “Redskins” name of Washington, D.C.’s football team?
I’m not buying that.
Here’s another one: the Chicago Blackhawks. Its Indian head, like Chief Wahoo, is decades old.
Chief Wahoo’s origin is murky; the Blackhawks logo is not.
Some say the Indians were named after native American Louis Sockalexis, who played for the team in the 1890s. Others say that’s not the whole story.
Joe Posnanski, executive columnist for MLB Advanced Media, offered this commentary on Oct. 13, 2016:
Best I can tell from all the research, there were two major factors in choosing Indians.
- Native American names were all the rage in 1914 because that was the year of Boston’s Miracle Braves, who were in last place on July 4 and then somehow won 70 of their last 89 games to win the National League by 10.5 games. Boston then swept the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. The nation was whooping for the Braves, and so a Native American nickname made a lot of sense.
- Cleveland did have that Sockalexis connection from the 19th century when the team was often called the Indians. This from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
“Many years ago there was an Indian named Sockalexis who was the star player of the Cleveland baseball club. As a batter, fielder and base runner he was a marvel. Sockalexis so outshone his teammates that he naturally came to be regarded as the whole team. The fans throughout the country began to call the Clevelanders “the Indians.” It was an honorable name, and while it stuck the team made an excellent record. It has now been decided to revive this name.”
People will argue forever about whether the Indians name was created in a cynical ploy to both mock and cash in on Native American culture or if it was a way to honor a pioneering Native American baseball player who, for a short time, thrilled people with his play. People will forever argue if the Chief Wahoo logo, which apparently was inspired by the “Little Indian” cartoon that would run in the newspaper, is a harmless caricature or a racist one. The split is fierce and passionate.
The Blackhawks’ logo has a much simpler history.
According to the New York Times, the Blackhawks’ founder was Maj. Frederic McLaughlin, whose family owned Manor House Coffee, a popular brand in the first half of the 20th century. McLaughlin named the team after the Blackhawk division, a unit he helped lead as an officer in the Army. It was formed during World War I, but the war ended before the unit, or McLaughlin, saw action. The unit was named for a Sauk and Fox American Indian leader who fought against the United States government in the War of 1812 and in 1832.
The team’s immensely popular Blackhawks Indian head logo was created by Irene Castle, wife of McLaughlin, in 1926 at the team’s inception into the NHL.
The national stage
Does that history play into today’s controversy, or lack thereof in the case of the Blackhawks’ logo?
If native Americans truly find these professional sports logos offensive, why not protest all three with vigor?
The Chief Wahoo argument gained steam in 2016 when the Indians reached the World Series, giving the issue national prominence.
The Blackhawks won the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015, so they’ve had a high profile for the past decade. Why has their logo not been a topic of national conversation?
The Redskins, as a team, haven’t played in the Super Bowl since they won it in 1992. Should they become relevant again on the field, would the name and logo debate gain more intensity?
I just see these three team logos treated very differently.
Perhaps all of them should be retired. In the meantime, I wish activists would pursue the worst offender, and not the easiest, first.