Over the weekend it was discovered that, among the “42”-themed merchandise Major League Baseball and its marketing partners were selling for Jackie Robinson Day, was an Indians cap featuring the “42” patch on the side and everyone’s favorite lame duck logo, Chief Wahoo, on the front, in his smiling glory.
Yep, no better way than to commemorate the end of de jure baseball segregation than by putting out merch with racist iconography on it. Fantastic work, folks!
This morning Maury Brown of Forbes reports that the league has pulled the cap from the site, saying that “it was mistake and had somehow slipped through the cracks,” [Brown’s words]. Whether you believe that was truly a mistake or whether it was removed due to the backlash that popped up over the weekend is between you and your belief in Major League Baseball’s efficiency and prowess when it comes to forward-thinking decision making and public relations prowess.
Whatever it was, however, there was one way this could have been avoided, unequivocally: getting rid of Wahoo immediately, rather than keeping the logo on the team’s on-field gear for one additional year.
When the league and the club made the decision to discontinue Wahoo’s use, they admitted that it was unacceptable, saying it was “no longer appropriate for on-field use,” and that it clashed with Major League Baseball’s commitment “to building a culture of diversity and inclusion.” That’s as close as corporate-speak comes to saying “yeah, that thing is as racist as hell” and, as such, it was an admirably courageous stance, at least by the low standards applied to such matters for multi-billion dollar corporate actors.
Of course, that they then nonetheless allowed it to persist another year was an implicit admission that, even if it’s racist, they’d sure like to sell a lot more Wahoo merch” before he’s gone. Given that cynical position, MLB is not entitled to the benefit of the doubt here. They are not allowed to say they made a “mistake” when they are the ones who knowingly and willingly created the conditions where it was likely to happen.
Maybe before this year, when the league and club offered vague and coy comments about Wahoo and could thus offer some moderately plausible deniability about what his appearance means in any given context, they could’ve said “oopsie.” As it is, however, they own whatever bad looks they create because they willingly allow the logo they themselves believe to be offensive to grace their official merch.