One of the more common responses to what I’ve posted about Chief Wahoo lately is “it’s just a cartoon character! Nobody cares!”
Well, looking at that guy in the photo above and many others dressed like him at Progressive Field the past two days is evidence that it is not just a cartoon character. A certain swath of Indians fans think that, because of their team’s name and mascot, it’s totally acceptable to show up in public looking like this. Wahoo as an official trademark of a Major League Baseball club gives people license to dress up in redface — or in this case, red and blackface — with headdresses on, turning a real people and a real culture into a degrading caricature. It’s not just a cartoon character by a long shot. To many it’s a get-out-being-called-a-racist-free card.
As for “nobody cares,” well, yes, someone does. Go read this from Sterling HolyWhiteMountain over at ESPN, talking about both Chief Wahoo as a symbol and America’s treatment and conception of Native Americans as a whole. It’s moving stuff that puts lie to the idea that “nobody cares.” It likewise puts lie to the false choice so many Chief Wahoo defenders reference in which they argue that people should care more about actual injustices visited upon Native Americans and not mascots. One can and should care about those injustices. And one can do that while simultaneously finding Chief Wahoo to be an odious symbol that serves to dehumanize people. Once people are dehumanized, it’s far easier to treat them as something less-than-human, of course.
But it’s not just Native Americans or anti-Wahoo folks like me who care. While I have been critical of Major League Baseball for not taking its own stand against Wahoo publicly, it seems pretty clear at this point that the league is weary of Wahoo and is looking to pressure the Indians to eliminate it. Last night, at the Hank Aaron Award ceremony, Manfred spoke more expansively about Wahoo than he did the day before. Manfred is a lawyer and he does not choose his words carelessly. Read this and parse it carefully:
“I know that that particular logo is offensive to some people, and all of us at Major League Baseball understand why. Logos are, however, primarily a local matter. The local club makes decisions about its logos. Fans get attached to logos. They become part of a team’s history. So it’s not easy as coming to the conclusion and realizing that the logo is offensive to some segment.
“I’ve talked to Mr. [Indians owner and CEO Paul] Dolan about this issue. We’ve agreed away from the World Series at an appropriate time we will have a conversation about this. I want to understand fully what his view is, and we’ll go from there. At this point in this context, I’m just not prepared to say more.”
Yes, he’s still trying to be diplomatic, but note how he (a) acknowledges that Wahoo is offensive to some people; (b) that “all of us at Major League Baseball understand why” and (c) does not validate the views of those who do not find it offensive. He acknowledges that they feel that way due to history, but he does not say, as I inferred from his previous comments the day before, that both sides have merit. Indeed, he says he’d like to hear Paul Dolan’s side, suggesting that while he’ll listen to argument, he doesn’t buy the argument as it has yet to be put.
I still wish that MLB would come out hard and strong against Wahoo publicly, but the more I listen to Manfred on this and read between the lines, the more I suspect that Major League Baseball is finally fed up with Wahoo and that it wants to do something to get rid of it. That it’s not just the hobby horse of pinko liberals like me. I believe Manfred realizes that, in 2016, Chief Wahoo is an embarrassment to an organization like Major League Baseball. Maybe, because of p.r. and political considerations, he doesn’t want to stand on a soapbox about it at the World Series, but I believe he wants to put an end to it all the same.
You can call me names for being against Wahoo all you want. But you can’t say it’s a non-issue. You can’t say that it’s just a cartoon character and you can’t say that nobody cares. To do that is an exercise in denial. I have come to believe that Major League Baseball cares and that it’s going to push hard to make the 2016 World Series the last time it is embarrassed by anachronistic racism on its biggest stage ever again.