By now you all know that the Cleveland Indians will no longer be using the Chief Wahoo logo on its team uniforms or in Progressive Field after the 2018 season. The statement the team sent out read, in part: “We have consistently maintained that we are cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the discussion,” said Cleveland Indians owner Paul Dolan. “While we recognize many of our fans have a longstanding attachment to Chief Wahoo, I’m ultimately in agreement with Commissioner Manfred’s desire to remove the logo from our uniforms in 2019.”
I’m one of those people with a long-standing attachment to the logo. Like most Clevelanders, I grew up seeing Chief Wahoo as the cartoon face of my baseball team. When I was a kid, that’s all the logo was to me–a cartoon of a goofy, smiling Indian. I didn’t think anything of wearing a cap or a T-shirt adorned with the Chief’s exaggerated big nose and red skin. The Chief was one of the cultural touch points of my childhood. Just as I can still hear the dulcet baritone of the station break announcer on the UHF station saying “You’re watching WUAB TV, Channel 43, serving Lorain and Cleveland” while I watched the Tribe on television, Chief Wahoo is burned into my brain as the wallpaper to endless childhood summers spent watching and playing baseball. I totally get the attachment. And I’m old enough now to admit that, yes, it is an attachment of very long standing.
It’s tempting to allow nostalgia and the fog of memory to overtake our better instincts,. It’s tempting to say that one’s long-standing attachment to an icon is worth more than the dignity of 5.2 million Native Americans, but you know it isn’t.
As I said, I liked cartoons, and I watched a lot of them. If you were a kid who watched too much TV during your 1970s childhood, you would eventually end up watching most of the Warner Brothers library. I think I must have. I watched them all, even the ones with grotesquely racist depictions of people from Japan and from Africa. The Chief Wahoo logo was designed in 1947, right around the time these Warner Brothers cartoons were made. They are all relics of a time when institutional and casual racism both were accepted by mainstream white America.
The 1970s and 80s teams I saw growing up didn’t give fans much to smile about, but Chief Wahoo was still there, perched atop the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, bat on his shoulder ready to smack one into the upper deck. That sign is still around. It was donated to the Western Reserve Historical Society when the team moved to Jacobs Field/Progressive Field in 1994.
That’s where Wahoo belongs. He’s a museum piece.
Over the past 24 hours, I’ve heard a lot of people griping that the removal of Chief Wahoo is all about political correctness and part of the wussification of America. I think sometimes it’s easier to give the term “politically correct” a derogatory connotation than to realize that all it really means is being considerate of your fellow human beings. In truth, political correctness just asks that we not act like assholes to each other.
Being kind doesn’t make you a wuss. The removal of Chief Wahoo doesn’t steal your childhood, nor will it diminish your kid’s childhood. But the Chief certainly diminishes the humanity of 5.2 million of my fellow citizens. I’ll gladly say goodbye.