MLB’s Handling Of Chief Wahoo Logo Is A Disgrace

Kill the logo already

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Apr 13, 2017 at 11:21 AM ET

Every opening day for more than two decades, Native Americans and kindred spirits have protested outside the Cleveland Indians’ home opener to stop the club from using the racist Chief Wahoo caricature as a team logo.

One of those protesters, Carla Getz from the Potawatomi Tribe in Michigan, eloquently explained to the Associated Press the crux of the issue:

“We are people, not mascots, not logos, not imagery,” she said. “Chief Wahoo does not represent anybody that I know or anybody in my tribe or in my family. That is someone’s interpretation of what we are, and all that does is diminish us in the eyes of the public. Here we are in 2017, we’re not logos. And we’ve got people telling us, ‘but you are.’”

How were she and the other demonstrators treated outside Progressive Field earlier this week? Not well.

Not well at all.

This issue has been bubbling for years but has reached a breakpoint ever since Cleveland advanced to last year’s World Series. At the time, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said, “I know that that particular logo is offensive to some people, and all of us at Major League Baseball understand why,” although there was no pledge for action other than a “conversation” with the franchise-owning Dolan family.

By January, Manfred’s rhetoric at least hinted at some change; while declining to speculate on the endgame, he said, “I think we’ll produce a result that will be good for the Indians and good for baseball.”

And now, as of the regular season, Manfred has finally taken a stance to protect the dignity of the Native American people offended by the logo, dispatching a statement to the New York Times through his top spokesman that communicated his “desire to transition away from the Chief Wahoo logo,” with a promise of “specific steps in an identified process and [we] are making progress.”

The team’s current statement is a bit paltry, using the mild descriptor “insensitive” to undersell the stated reaction of the Native American community while presenting a false equivalence of “those fans who have a long standing attachment to its place in the history of the team.” It did, at the very least, replace Chief Wahoo with a block C for its primary logo back in 2014, although Chief Wahoo remains visible.

This really shouldn’t be hard. If a group of people is offended by others’ depiction of that group, that offensiveness outweighs non-affected people having the ability to wear a logo of a sports team. As SI.com noted, there’s concrete research to show the logo’s detriment on American Indians by supplanting “respectful images of their culture, spirituality, and traditions” with “stereotypical images” that are a “are a contemporary example of prejudice by the dominant culture against racial and ethnic minority groups” (American Psychological Association, 2005) and “directly results in lower self-esteem and mental health for [American Indian] adolescents and young adults” (Center for American Progress, 2014).

One particular point that Philip Yenyo, executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, made in an AP interview is his opposition to baseball profiting off of the Chief Wahoo logo. A cursory search through the league’s official online store, MLBShop.com, turns up dozens of items in the catalog—from hats to batting practice jerseys to retro t-shirts to two different alternate Chief Wahoo logos—almost all of them with the popularity-boasting tag that someone had purchased that item within the last 24 hours.

Longtime Indians executive Mark Shapiro, now with the Blue Jays, said during last year’s playoffs that he was uncomfortable with the logo, adding, “I think there will be a day, whenever that is, that the people that are making decisions here decide that Chief Wahoo is no longer fitting,” he said then, per the Times.

During that postseason, an indigenous Canadian activist tried flexing that country’s judicial muscle by filing an injunction to force Cleveland to abandon the Wahoo logo in that country; the injunction was not granted, but it was an indication that those offended are willing to take stronger, pro-active steps.

Unfortunately, there remains a large number of people who just don’t understand the offended party’s viewpoint.

“Chief Wahoo is the Cleveland Indians,” Karen Hale, an Indians fan, told the Times. “I think there comes a time when you have to take a stand for what you believe in. I don’t think it’s hurting anybody.”

This is the time to take a stand? Sigh.