Mark Shapiro ran the Cleveland Indians for years. Now he runs the Blue Jays. Upon the Jays’ trip to Cleveland for the ALCS, the topic of the Indians name and mascot, Chief Wahoo, came up. Shapiro says that he was troubled by Wahoo when he worked for Cleveland:
“The logo — Chief Wahoo — is one that was troubling to me personally,” he added. “So when I was an official spokesman for the Cleveland Indians, I distanced myself from the fact that it personally bothered me. But we as an organization with strong support from ownership came up with the ‘Block C’ that you’re wearing on your credentials right now. We built equity in the ‘Block C.’ . . . We gave that alternative for people and I think that we established that as an important logo and now the primary logo for the Cleveland Indians. And so I’m proud of that.
We’ve written for some time about how the Indians seemed to be making efforts to distance themselves from Wahoo in certain respects. It’s most evident at their spring training facility, which sits in a state which has a much larger Native American population than does Ohio. Administratively speaking, Major League Baseball considers the Block C the “primary” logo of the Indians, not Chief Wahoo.
But that’s fairly meaningless, of course. Because for all that they have done with the Block C logo — and for as much as they want to claim that Wahoo is their “secondary” logo — they continue to sell millions of dollars of merchandise with that ugly, racist symbol emblazoned upon it. Their Block C-centric alternate jerseys are used less and less than they were when first introduced in 2008. Block C appears on placards at official MLB functions and in graphics packages at various places on MLB websites and broadcasts, but Wahoo is on every jersey their players wear, including the Block C alternates, and it appears on their most used caps and helmets. It’ll be all over national TV during the ALCS and the World Series if the Indians advance.
The Indians have always wanted to have their cake and eat it too, both when Shapiro ran the club and now. They want credit for making symbolic nods toward distancing themselves from what even their top officials agree is a troublesome symbol, but they want to continue to make money, to boost their brand and to foster fan loyalty via its continued use.
I suppose Shapiro feels better having publicly said that he doesn’t care for Chief Wahoo, but neither he nor those associated with the club today get points for “minimizing” Chief Wahoo while continuing to employ him liberally in any number of ways. As I’ve argued many, many times on this website, there is no reasonable case to be made that Chief Wahoo is anything but an ugly, racist caricature. If it “troubles” Indians executives, they have one choice: get rid of it entirely. Anything less than that renders their concern meaningless and empty.