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Monday, April 13, 2009
Wahoo on the way out?The Cleveland Indians, no doubt devoted ShysterBall readers all of them, are starting to ratchet back Chief Wahoo's profile:
Observant visitors to spring training this year to see the Indians in their new complex in Goodyear, Ariz., may have noticed something missing. Outside of the Indians' uniforms, caps and the bustling gift shop at Goodyear Ballpark, Chief Wahoo, the longtime symbol of the team, was absent from the facility . . .
Not that I would expect some formal announcement from the team along those lines anyway. My feelings on Wahoo notwithstanding, the Indians aren't some public entity with a responsibility to set the tone in big capital letters and thereby risk alienating the folks who disagree with me on this point. What matters, in my mind, is not what they say, but how they behave, and if they are truly working to diminish the prevalence of Chief Wahoo, good for them.
If they want my advice -- and I'm sure they don't -- the next step is to strike Wahoo from the sleeves of those sweet alternate home jerseys. Then replace the batting helmets with the new "C" logo. Last step will be to make the alternates the permanent home uniforms -- which should be done for reasons separate and apart from Wahoo -- thereby banishing Wahoo from the players' duds.
That, combined with the already lower profile of Wahoo in recent years (e.g. scoreboard, etc.), will go a long damn way to fixing a damn big problem.
(Thanks to Pete Toms who shot me the link via Ballparks Digest)
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 4:21pm
I wholeheartedly agree. It is way past time and the Redskins should be next.
Posted 04/13 at 05:18 PM
Wahoo is racist and needs to go, but part of me will still be sad when it finally happens. When I see Wahoo, I don’t consciously make a connection to any ethnic group…I just think of Indians baseball.
Posted 04/13 at 05:53 PM
i’m going to be so upset when the wahoo is finally gone
Posted 04/13 at 06:36 PM
We’re not talking about removing the name “Indians”, just the racist logo. I think the Redskins removed the steriotypical warrior figure from their franchise some years ago.
Posted 04/13 at 08:03 PM
Jason B said...
“Fixing a damn big problem” >>> “Fixing a truly minor annoyance in the grand scheme of problems.”
Posted 04/13 at 09:49 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Jason—if it’a on this blog, it is, by definition, a minor thing as compared to the great big world, so your qualification is implied.
Posted 04/13 at 09:52 PM
Must be hard to type from way up there on your high horse. (Joking. Sort of.)
Posted 04/13 at 11:38 PM
Real American said...
the crybabies should shut up and get over themselves. Wahoo is a beloved icon and doesn’t hurt anyone in any legally definable way. No one is injured physically or financially. No one is being denied of any legal rights by the use of Wahoo. if seeing Wahoo hurts your feelings, then go see a doctor and get this self-imposed mental problem fixed. no one says you have to like or enjoy this character, but that doesn’t mean that those who do shouldn’t be able to and they certainly shouldn’t be smeared for doing so. Wahoo is great. The only ones who see Wahoo and think bad things about Indians are the ones who don’t like Wahoo. They’re the real bigots here. Wahoo fans aren’t the racists here. I hope the Indians do the right thing and keep him around forever.
Posted 04/14 at 03:09 AM
The Common Man said...
Oh, well since a real American thinks Wahoo isn’t offensive at all, I guess we can all pack it up and go home. Thanks for weighing in there.
Meanwhile, back in reality, no one here is arguing that Wahoo “hurts anyone in a legally definable way,” just that a) it’s a racist caricature, and b) if you’re not some self-righteous narcisist who only cares about their needs, wants, and desires, you probably don’t want to use it. You know, I may want to call someone a xenophobic, jingoistic redneck… but I don’t because I don’t want people to think I’m disparaging the whole of the American South.
If you don’t think that words and images have cultural relevance and power, then I don’t know how to help you. Wahoo may or may not influence the way people perceive Native Americans in this country (I’d argue it does, but that’s not the point), but it also influences the way people perceive the Cleveland Indians, and whether they’re a good organization worth supporting.
And finally, are you a fan of a logo or a team? Saying you’re a devoted fan of Wahoo is like me saying I’m a devoted fan of those two big muscley guys shaking hands across the Mississippi River. I don’t root for them, I root for Joe Mauer. They don’t hit home runs, Justin Morneau does. So who cares of the logo changes? Grady Sizemore isn’t going anywhere.
Posted 04/14 at 07:51 AM
My question for the Craigs of the world (and I ask this sincerely): let’s say they gradually toned down the more caricaturesque aspects of the Chief Wahoo icon and turned him into a more sober looking indian? Would that make any difference? Or are all depictions of American Indians racist?
Because the choice needn’t be necessarily to keep it or to completely eliminate all traces of it. Maybe they could do something like the Orioles did, turning the cartoon bird, into just a plain (and better) looking bird straight out of the Audobon society’s bird watching guide. Similarly, if the Indians just had a plain-looking Indian, not smiles, no enhanced features, no warrior get-ups, would that be a problem? I’m thinking of the Chicago Blackhawks, or the Seminoles, for example. Maybe its because its an NHL team, and they would normally pass under the radar, but I don’t think there’s controversy over the ‘Hawks’ icon (although maybe there is, I’m not from Chicago). The Blackhawks don’t play up the indian side of it, they don’t have an indian mascot, or anything. Maybe that’s a direction the Indians could go in so as not to completely eliminate their heritage.
I would be interested to hear other how other people feel about this.
Posted 04/14 at 08:11 AM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Joao—I can’t speak for everyone, but I think that it would make all the difference in the world if they made the sorts of changes you described. I’m not opposed to the Indians name or the concept of Indians as mascots. I’m a Braves fan for cryin’ out loud. My sole issue with Wahoo is that it is a racist caricature of Indians akin to blackface Sambo characters, hook-nosed Jews, slant-eyed Asians and the like.
I could totally envision an Inidan mascot that would be entirely acceptable. The Indians would probably find that, if they wanted to go in that direction, no small number of Indian groups and cultural organizations would be able to assist them to do so in a way that honors rather than denigrates Indian culture.
Posted 04/14 at 08:24 AM
The Common Man said...
Holy apples and oranges. The Notre Dame nickname was created in the 1920s by members of the schools’ alumni. The mascot is a fictional creature (like the magical animal that makes bacon, pork chops, and ham) that hides pots-o-gold at the end of the rainbow and appears in hilariously bad movies with Jennifer Anniston.
Posted 04/14 at 09:10 AM
go zips said...
the old tribe logos were, without a doubt, racist depictions of american indians. chief wahoo has been around for so long and the image used now has been around long enough that people should not feel threatened by it. chief wahoo is synonymous with cleveland indians baseball. by now, he is just a logo. longevity should have a say in the discussion.
Posted 04/14 at 09:37 AM
go zips said...
one more thing - are all the people who do the tomahawk chop at braves and fsu games racist?
Posted 04/14 at 09:39 AM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Zips: “tradition” is something routinely cited to justify and perpetuate stupidity and insensitivity. Lawn jockeys and minstril shows were around for a long time too, and I don’t think that their longevity really has any say in the argument. Offensive is offensive, no matter how long it has offended.
As for the Tomahawk Chop: I don’t know if they’re racist. I do know that they look like utter morons, though.
Posted 04/14 at 09:45 AM
Go zips - Just because an image has been in existence for a long time does not mean that it’s existence is acceptable. As you stated the image was one of several racist images used by the Tribe and other sports teams that harbor back to a day when overt racism was the norm in this country. The continued usage of such images never lets the wounds of our past fully heal as they do evoke painful memories for many folks.
Some of those memories are associated with baseball and I have been blessed to meet several men who played in the Negro Leagues and while I suspect none of them were capable of playing in the majors, they were never given the opportunity because of the racist past of baseball. While the Indians were one of the first teams to integrate, I suspect that it pained Larry Doby to put on a jersey or cap that depicted a racist image especially before he had to go out and be insulted by teammates, opponents and many of the fans at the game. I would also suspect that like many African Americans (my wife included) that his family heritage includes one or two indigenous people.
As Craig has stated images such as Chief Wahoo, blackface Sambo, and the slant-eyed Asian harken back to a era in our history that overtly racist and xenophobic images were the norm as our society was inherently racist. While a great deal of progress has been made and Barack Obama is our first non-white president there is still a great deal of work to do. For example, white supremacist web sites crashed after the election and membership have tripled in the last months. While I doubt that Chief Wahoo has resulted in the recruitment one new member, the mere existence of overtly racist images supports the notion that one group of people is lessor than another group.
Also - many of these images or other logos are used as coded images for support of, or membership in, hate groups. For example, while many folks wear sports jerseys with numbers such as 33 (Larry Bird) or 88 (Lynn Swann, Michael Irvin) other wear them to express their belief in white supremacy as 33 is code for the KKK (k is the 11 letter of the alphabet so 33 is 3xK) or 88 as code for heil hitler (h is the 8th letter of the alphabet). The NHRA logo for many represents the ‘ni**er hating redneck association’ and can be worn, especially with another coded item, to publically express their association with white supremacist ideas and groups.
While I do not know of any Chief Wahoo codes I suspect that it may be used, or could be used, and while eliminating such images will not change people’s hearts the removal of such images may let some wounds heal over as such images continually pick at the scabs of our racist past. While these wounds may not seem real to you they are to many people and I suspect that you have some scabs that you do not want continually picked at because doing so never lets you have peace with a pain of your past.
For example, one of my closest friends grew up outside of Cleveland and is a huge baseball fan and continually has his scab pick as he follows the Tribe. Removing the logo would allow him and others to go to a baseball game and not be reminded of the pains of the past and I am sure he’d appreciate that greatly.
Posted 04/14 at 10:46 AM
You had a post not long ago from an Indians fan who, if I recall correctly, was pleading for shifting the ground on which this issue was argued. His point that the least effective strategy for accomplishing the objective of removing/altering Chief Wahoo was to alienate the people who have affection for the symbol for reasons having little to do with racism.
Anyway, I agreed with that post and the point of my earlier post was to find a way to get past this “stalemate” (I put the word “stalemate” in quotes because there’s really no huge controversy here and hence no standoff to be stalemated. There is no big movement calling on the elimination of Chief Wahoo. To the extent there is, it is driven mainly by a few white people. But this is beside my point). A logical next step would be to have someone like Uniwatch do a reader contest to design an alternate indian logo. Something like I posited earlier, a non-caricaturesque indian, who still connects to the Indians heritage in some way. If you check out the design competition Uniwatch ran for the Oklahoma City NBA team (before they called themselves the bland “Thunder”), readers sent in some pretty awesome designs along, including some professional-looking stuff, almost all of which ended up looking a lot nicer than what that team ended up with. They even came up with nicknames, multiple logos, etc (check out the proposals for the ‘Settlers’). My point is, that something like that could shift the ground of the debate a bit, making it less alienating for the Indians fan, who will see as an alternative, not someone stomping on their memories (and implying that they are some sort of coded racist), but an alternative that may actually be cooler than what they have now.
Instead of offering the Indian fan (who remember, doesn’t think he is racist) an alternative between Chief Wahoo and nothing, you offer him a choice between Wahoo and some other indian logo. That’s much harder ground for an Indians fan to defend, since he will not be defending the general concept of depicting an indian but the specific depiction of Chief Wahoo.
Maybe I’m being incredibly naive about this.
Posted 04/14 at 11:59 AM
J. McCann said...
I wonder if this is more an Arizona thing. I’m sure there are many more Native Americans near their spring traing park than by Cleveland. So maybe they just figure they should tread lightly in that state.
Ultimately they are a private company and are free to use whatever logo they want, understanding that a certain part of the population will not like it.
Posted 04/14 at 12:05 PM
Jack Marshall said...
Craig has an unusually rational approach to this issue (offensive logo, inoffensive name), but as the NCAA mascot nonsense proved, once you give grievance bullies and political correctness fanatics an inch, they’ll never stop. Witness the description above of the staid Redskins logo—-exactly the kind of logo the Indians should have (inoffensive logo-offensive name, by the way) as “stereotypical.” Dartmouth, a school that was founded for Indian education, banned its Indian mascot, though nobody seems to be offended by Harvard’s “stereotypical” Pilgrim mascot, perhaps because there aren’t any Pilgrim advocates trying to win political concessions.
Me, I’d favor giving all caricatures and cartoons of any group or occupation…padre, Twin, Irishman, pirate (I’m waiting for Pittsburg to hear from these, via Somalia) or Native American…a free pass. I’m not offended when that cheesy mall cartoonist draws me with my bald head bigger than my body, and riding on a pig. Incipient censorship is a much bigger problem than stupid team logos.
Posted 04/14 at 03:20 PM
Actual Indians fan here. I think what the Indians are doing is dialing Chief Wahoo back to a sub-alternate logo, kind of where the Brewers are with the old mb/glove logo. Keep it on the home alternate uniform, license a few caps on the side. You diminish the Chief’s significance without turning it into a crusade, one way or the other, and I think that’s the responsible way to do it. I appreciate Craig’s take.
I’m a big fan of the block-C, by the way—it actually dates back to the start of the franchise. The script-I is anemic and stupid and reminds me of Jody Gerut.
Posted 04/14 at 03:40 PM