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 . . .

. . . Team President Paul Dolan said, “I know there was some sensitivity involved on the outside of the complex,” regarding the use of the script ‘I’ as opposed to Chief Wahoo . . . As for Goodyear Ballpark, Dolan said: “It’s not our ballpark. I would expect some sensitivity was involved, but ultimately it’s the city’s ballpark.”

A city spokesperson said they followed the Indians’ marketing lead. Since the team used the script ‘I’ as its main “identifier” by putting it in front of the player development complex, the city followed suit at the ballpark . . . “We aren’t phasing Chief Wahoo out,” said Dolan. “We are introducing alternative trademarks – the script ‘I’, script ‘Indians’ and the block ‘C’. They may have had a diluting effect on Chief Wahoo, but we have no plans in place to eliminate Wahoo.”

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)

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  1. pete said...

    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.

  2. 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.


  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Jason B said...

    “Fixing a damn big problem” >>> “Fixing a truly minor annoyance in the grand scheme of problems.”

    /respectfully fixed/

  6. 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.

  7. MooseinOhio said...

    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.

  8. joao said...


    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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. fleerdon said...

    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.

  13. MooseinOhio said...

    @ Jack Mashall – It is hard for me to call people asking that racist images, such as Chief Wahoo or Sambo, “grievance bullies and political correctness fanatics” and that actions taken by organizations to remove such hurtful images as “incipient censorship”.  Also, equating your choice to have a silly caricature drawn by the mall artist with centuries of oppression is an apples and elephant comparison.  If you care to learn more about some of the negative effect of racist caricatures I have provided some links below as I think your perspective may be limited.






  14. Ron said...

    Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the Queen and her family have filed a lawsuit and gotten an injuction against the major league club in Kansas City for the audacity of using the name “Royals”.

    When asked for a comment, the Queen replied, “I don’t know who these colonials think they are, trying to associate themselves with my birthright. If this was London, I could have tortured by having lunch with Charles. He would give them a good talking to.”

    Latest word from Kansas City General mis-Manager Dayton Moore is that, until the suit is settled, and in order to prove that he does have a sense of humor, (because not everyone knows how much money Farnsworth is making) the team will be known as the Walks.

    This will, of course, lead to confusion in Kansas City, as they will no longer be able to use the headline ‘Kansas City Walks’, because it hasn’t happened in 3 years.

    This will cause Joe Posnanski to write a 12 million word post on his blog, leading to his fingers actually being worn to the nub.

    Good times for baseball in Kansas City.

  15. 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.


  16. tadthebad said...


    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.

  17. Joao said...

    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.

  18. 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.

  19. MooseinOhio said...

    @Jack – As an educator I greatly appreciate discussion and dialogue and use it as a common teaching practice and in that process want to have a wide diversity of views presented.  I am not advocating that an entity, such as MLB, force Cleveland to remove the logo however I do wish that the team would recognize that harmful impact of the logo. 

    As for my ‘enlightment’, maybe I do view the world differently because I am married to a black woman who has African, Puerto Rican, Native American and Irish hertitage.  Maybe I view the world differently because I have listened to stories about how painful offensive speech can be.  Maybe I do struggle knowing my 3 yo daughter has been exposed to cartoons that portray caricature of people of color and plant insidious little seeds of being considered less than someone else.  Maybe I do take this a little more personal than others because I know that my little girl will someday be called the n-word or halfrican and that day is coming sooner than later.  But I’d rather be the enlighted person that I have become than the person that I was that did not understand just how painful and long-lasting the effect of hateful speech and images can have.

  20. Jack Marshall said...

    Moose: I stand by my comment, stop arguing with things I didn’t say, and spare me your more-sensitive-than-thou enlightenment. Cartoons don’t “oppress” anyone, especially cartoons that symbolize beloved sports franchises. I agree that Chief Wahoo is one of the genuinely offensive logos and I wouldn’t miss him, but people like you can’t tell the difference between offensive and inoffensive. Banning speech, offensive or not, is offensive to me, but be my guest: advocate it, Draw a picture, even.

  21. Jack Marshall said...

    Offense is often in the mind of the beholder, and one individual’s perception of offense should not dictate conduct. Most people, I think, even those who are not hypersensitive, would agree that Chief Wahoo is anachronistic and vaguely embarrassing at best. Calling the logo “hateful,” however, is exactly the kind of over-reaching I object to. The image was obviously not intended as a tool of hate: people do not use “hateful” images to symbolize a community’s baseball team. Nor was hate ever intended, since the Indians were named to HONOR a Native American. (Even the currently offensive team name “Redskins” had an innocent origin: when the Boston Braves NFL team moved its home to Fenway Park, it wanted to keep the Native American theme but show its relationship to the AL Red Sox in Fenway rather than the rival Braces. So some genius had the idea of changing the name to RedSKINS to match the Red SOX. The name should go, but even that clearlly racist name wasn’t intended “hatefully.”)

  22. Charles Brown said...

    Kudos to the Indians organization for eliminating a beloved team symbol to enforce correct attitudes among an ignorant populace.  I was born with a large (size 8 1/2) head.  All my life, I have had to endure painful ridicule from insensitive people who complain that I block out the sun’s rays and that they can’t see the movie when seated behind me in a theatre.  For years, I have waged a campaign against Mr. Met, the bulbous-domed mascot of the Mets, and his cousin, the nefariously derivative Cincinnati Redleg.  Every time I see the supposedly comic images of these two corporate shills, I am reminded of my lifetime of pain and struggle, as well as the fact that I need to pick up a case of Prell on my way home.  please join our celebrity spokesperson, Minnie Driver, and thousands of grandly-pated individuals in standing up and saying “no” to bigheaded mascots.

  23. Craig Calcaterra said...

    “since the Indians were named to HONOR a Native American.”

    Except that is completely untrue.  It’s a myth that has been debunked over and over.

    “The image was obviously not intended as a tool of hate”

    If you do something with innocent intentions but later find out that your actions were insensitive and hurtful to unintended third parties, do you simply blow it off and ignore it?  Is it ethical to wash one’s hands of the unintended consequences we set in motion?

  24. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Jack, one more thing:

    “Offense is often in the mind of the beholder, and one individual’s perception of offense should not dictate conduct.”

    This is exactly the kind of relativism you have criticized when applied to steroids.  Why is it acceptable now.  A racist caricature is either OK or not OK.  Which is it, Jack?

  25. Jack Marshall said...

    Craig—to answer your questions 1) maybe yes, maybe no. and 2)Depends on how you balance the equation.

    Thanks for the clarification on Lou S., though it doesn’t change the fact that the logo is not “hateful,” and wasn’t. In this case, I think there’s no benefit or need sufficient to justify keeping the symbol, so the answer to both questions would be “yes.” In the case of cutting the Indian numbers in the musicals “Peter Pan” and “Annie Get your Gun”, or the “Rape” song in “The Fantastiks”, or much of “Show Boat,” including “Old Man River,” on the other hand, I think the balance goes the other way. Take “Peter Pan”: the “Indians” in that show are kids’ storybook Indians obviously unmoored to reality. The number, now often cut or replaced by a real stinker, is a good one. If someone is offended by it, they should avoid “Peter Pan.” It’s a period piece. How do you feel about “Huckleberry Finn?” Is is hateful? LOTS of people are offended by that one.

  26. Jack Marshall said...

    Wait a minute! “Racist” and “offensive” and “hateful” are simply not absolute terms, and I do NOT have to agree with the assessment of anyone or everyone, no matter how sincere. I don’t endorse relativism, but some things are indeed relative.

  27. MooseinOhio said...

    Jack:  The intent behind many of these images/caricatures being discussed was based on overt prejudices and were parts of intentional acts to discriminate – which in my book fall into the hate category.  That is the main reason I included the links in a previous post because movies such as ‘Birth of a Nation’, images of Sambo, Chief Wahoo and the many of the cartoon I adored growing up were designed in large part to maintain a certain social order with the dominant white culture clearly superior to all others.  The documentaty Ethnic Notion demonstrates this well regarding negative images associated with blacks. 

    My intent was to inform by sharing an few examples as to how such an image can hurt others and secondly to provide some additional materials that may help others see the issue from a perspective they may not have previously regarded.  Whether the receiver accepts what I share is on them and it appears that you may see it as bunk, another example of a PC culture run amok or some sort of challenge to your worldview.  While I believe that you do not fully appreciate the levels of harm associated with such images I believe otherwise and it appears that we will agree to disagree on such matters.

  28. Jack Marshall said...

    Moose, that’s swell with me, provided that “agree to disagree” doesn’t mean that you tell me what I have to be offended by to avoid being labeled as “racist” and “hateful.”

  29. MooseinOhio said...

    Jack:  I never labeled you or anyone else and have not attempted to make this personal in any way and if for some reason you felt I had, then I apologize.

  30. Real American said...

    Common Man, you need to learn how to argue correctly. I disagree that Wahoo is racist. People disagree with me. That’s fine. That’s the debate. It isn’t “reality” that Wahoo is racist. Your whole argument is premised on your belief that Wahoo is a racist caricature. But you’re simply arguing that Wahoo is racist because its racist. That’s called circular reasoning. This a debate with more than one side.

    Anyway, this debate is entirely about perception because, as I argued and you admit, no one is injured here. I don’t see Wahoo and think bad things about Native Americans. You do. The problem is with you and those like you. Not me. If people stop and think for a second about how Wahoo actually injures them, they would not care either way because it does not do anything. But some people are dying to be offended and will be offended no matter what. They won’t stop with Wahoo. They want the Redskins to change their name. they want the Braves to change their name. It will never stop. They destroy tradition and history and icons that don’t fit in with political correctness that stifles freedom and creativity and thought.

  31. Will said...

    It is still pretty confusing to me that something innocuous as a charicature of an ethnic group causes such a reaction, while there are logos out there like the Hurricanes or for Christ’s sake the Tulane Green Wave that are representative of people actually dying that get off scott free.  And if Chief Wahoo reminds you of the Trail of Tears, well then you are beyond hope.

  32. pablo said...

    I just realized that I’m offended by lots of stuff.  The Trojan guy from USC…ohhh it makes me so angry.  OH and the Popeye Spartan guy from Mich St.  How offensive.  And that completely offensive swinging Padre cartoon guy.  It makes me so mad.  Don’t get me started on the offense I take at the “fighting Irish”  the cartoon leprichan is reprehensible.  Ohhhh the humanity.


  33. daltonic said...

    how can anyone look @ Wahoo and not think that’s a racist logo?

    people may love it, but that doesn’t make it right.

    chief wahoo was introduced in, what, 1947?

    america has grown up quite a bit from that time, no? why is it so hard to let go of something that is so obviously not right in its current state?

    obviously, the cleveland organization has every right to use it – but that doesn’t mean they should use it.

    it’s 2009. let’s embrace how far we’ve come as a nation rather than hold on to an old stereotype just because “we like it” even though it’s so obviously inappropriate.

  34. Rich said...

    They should scrap Indians all together.  Using human beings as mascots is unacceptable in this day and age.

  35. Jack Marshall said...

    Oh Rich: Because it’s unacceptable to YOU, it’s unacceptable, right? I guess that makes you the Ultimate Arbiter of Acceptable Graphics and Communications. Glad to know that. Presumably, you mean logos AND mascots (there is no Chief Wahoo running around that I’ve ever seen), so the Quaker Oats Quaker, the Doublemint Twins, Mister Clean and Betty Crocker are also “unacceptable,” along with the Pittsburgh Pirate, the Twins, and the Padre. It’s OK, though, to have under-paid human beings sweating in furry costumes as mascots, or do you object to animal mascots too? Cartoons are obviously out, right? (Chief Wahoo isn’t a real person, you know)…really, I think we need a detailed memo from you and your ultra-pompous and doctrinaire fellow thought- and image police comrades to let us know exactly what is “acceptable” to look at, laugh at, smile at, roll our eyes at or just ignore.

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