“The Cleveland Indians announced Monday they are dropping the Chief Wahoo logo from their uniforms next year, bowing to decades of complaints that the grinning, red-faced caricature used since 1947 is racist.”
That news from the Associated Press in Cleveland was quickly carried Monday across the nation in the New York Times, on NPR, USA Today, the Washington Post and across the pond in the Guardian.
But while much ado is being made of the removal, beginning in the 2019 season, of this this stereotypical logo, there has been little discussion lately of also axing the name Indians from Cleveland’s Major League Baseball franchise.
This name, along with those of the Redskins, Chiefs and Braves professional sports teams, has been from time to time banned from a handful of American newspaper sports pages, including the Oregonian (Portland) and the Star-Tribune (Minneapolis).
Those defending such sports names must realize a team begun today would no longer use those names any more than it would to call a team the San Francisco Chinamen, the Albuquerque Mexicans, the Boston Japanese or the Palm Beach Cubans. And those arguing a racist name such as the Redskins should be used because that’s what the team calls itself, would be hard-pressed to sanction a well-healed political figure inaugurating a new team and naming it the Harlem N…..– a name to African Americans that’s just as disgusting as the word Redskins is to Native Americans.
So what’s a media organization to do when faced with names and logos now considered inappropriate? The Society of Professional Journalists advises balancing the seeking and reporting of truth with minimizing harm. That’s not a bad place to begin.
The Chief Wahoo logo is and and has been for decades popular around the world. More Cleveland Indians caps with this logo are worn than are any other baseball caps at many Beijing universities.
In the 1990s a student stood up in a media ethics class at the University of Minnesota, saying: “I’m Ojibwe Sioux. This (Chief Wahoo) cap is worn by more boys on the Ojibwe National Reservation in Minnesota than are any other caps. We know it’s a stereotype. We’re not stupid. What’s the big deal?”
Well, the deal is this logo’s time has passed. But regardless of whether sports organizations themselves know this, the media should consider axing any and all such outmoded and distasteful names and images.
All of which brings us back to the Cleveland Indians, a professional baseball team that finally after some 70 years is responsibly retiring Chief Wahoo. It’s now time for that same franchise to think about the team name itself, the Indians, inaugurated after the 1914 season, and that for previous decades had been variously called the Grand Rapids Rustlers, Cleveland Lake Shores, Bluebirds, Blues, Broncos, Naps and Spiders.
Personally, I’d prefer a return to the Spiders. And I bet in a short time a team with a spunky spider on its headgear and uniforms would quickly outsell all those dusty, outdated Chief Wahoo caps and t-shirts.
And wouldn’t that be a fitting tribute for a team with the longest current World Series losing record in baseball – a small-market team some say may be poised to upend the Houston Astros in the 2018 American League postseason and go on to defeat the well-healed Dodgers from Los Angeles in the World Series? Clearly, it’s time to turn over more than just one leaf. And what a good sports story that would be.