The Cleveland Indians haven’t gotten nearly as much flack as the Washington Redskins have for team-related racist connotations. For the Redskins, it’s right there in the name. For the Indians, it’s their logo mascot, Chief Wahoo.
This is not to say that the mascot hasn’t been a topic of conversation. In 2014, the American Indian Education Center planned a $9 billion lawsuit against the Indians over the use of the mascot. Ohio legislators Sherrod Brown [link] and Eric Kearney [link] have spoken out against Chief Wahoo. And to the Indians’ credit, the club has pushed more merchandise with the block C rather than the Wahoo logo, but then-president Mark Shapiro defended the use of Wahoo, saying it “represents the heritage of the team.”
Adding more fuel to the debate, Cory Collins wrote a compelling article for The Sporting News, arguing that the Indians should “retire Chief Wahoo completely”. Collins explains:
Michael Friedman, one of the authors of the Oneida-commissioned study, succinctly explained the impact to NPR:
“A series of studies show that if Native Americans are shown images of stereotypical Native American mascots … self-esteem goes down, belief in community goes down, belief in achievement goes down and mood goes down…
“If someone who is non-Native American sees a stereotypical image of a Native American mascot, their association with the Native American community also gets worse.”
At its most granular level, the NPR interview hit at the core of the problem in speaking with a Native American father, who remembered the seven words his son spoke after seeing the Washington logo: “Are they making fun of us, Dad?”
Controversy over the Indians’ logo isn’t anything new. Collins embedded a newspaper article from 1972 which reported on the Cleveland American Indian Center’s plan to file a lawsuit against the Indians. In Collins’ words, “Sound familiar?”
Collins makes a great argument and, ultimately, he’s right: the Indians, by continuing to promote the team and sell merchandise with the Chief Wahoo logo, they are allowing, “abetting, funding, and profiting from” racism. And the logo is still right there in the team’s online shop.