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MLB, Cleveland Indians To Remove Chief Wahoo Logo from Jerseys

January 30, 2018 | Joseph Myers

With five-consecutive winning seasons and two-straight American League Central Division titles, the Cleveland Indians have made many supporters hopeful that the diamond occupants will soon bring home the franchise’s first World Series title since 1948. No matter how much joy the organizations has engendered, though, its use of a Native American caricature on uniforms has long disturbed and disgusted people who consider it culturally insensitive. Following numerous calls to quit using the depiction and promoting it as an appropriate symbol—with many of the gripes having come since the team’s 2016 trip to the Fall Classic—the Indians and Major League Baseball (MLB) teamed up yesterday to announce the club will abandon the Chief Wahoo logo on jerseys and stadium signs next year.

The squad has called upon the representation since that aforementioned World Series crown-bearing campaign (One could easily say that the 70-year championship drought is some cosmic payback for management’s decision to use the cartoonish item at all.) and has regularly met with contention that the Wahoo character and the team’s nickname sully Native American contributions to society and portray those with Native American blood in a negative light. While yesterday’s declaration does much to limit their put-upon distinction, it does by no means mark a full victory for Native Americans and their support systems, as the Indians offered no indication that they will consider changing their name and will continue to peddle Chief Wahoo-inclusive merchandise in Northeast Ohio and Goodyear, Arizona, their spring training location. That latter element serves to help the organization to retain trademark ownership but will certainly irk the opposition, whose members, including Phillip Yenyo, the executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, are wondering why they have to endure seeing the logo on uniforms for one more day, let alone a whole year.

“Why wait?” he asked in speaking with the New York Times. “If you are going to go this far and get rid of it, why not do it now? All they are doing is testing it out because the name has to go, too. The nickname absolutely has to go. It’s not just the logo.”

The Indians had not been completely against doing away with the insignia, as they introduced, in 2014, a block C as their main identifier. Topps Company, Inc. chimed in last July, announcing it would use that choice as the freestanding logo on the team’s baseball cards going forward. With that news, yesterday’s declaration and the organization’s hosting duties for the 2019 All-Star Game, the Indians figure to fetch a few more headlines, especially since pitchers and catchers are to report for spring training on Valentine’s Day.

“We have consistently maintained that we are cognizant [of] and sensitive to both sides of the discussion,” team owner Paul Dolan said. “While we recognize many of our fans have a long-standing attachment to Chief Wahoo, I’m ultimately in agreement with Commissioner [Rob] Manfred’s desire to remove the logo from our uniforms in 2019.”


The Cleveland Indians initially donned the Chief Wahoo logo in 1948, the year of their last World Series title. | Credit: Associated Press

Though MLB cannot halt the Indians’ sale of merchandise so that organization can protect its Chief Wahoo trademark and cannot prevent fans from wearing apparel that features the image, its website will not hawk any product that bears the logo following next season. Given that the Indians will again have a strong club as they look for their third-straight postseason berth, those who hold the logo in contempt might need to wait until late October or early November to have Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber and the rest of the Tribe don the controversial uniforms for the last time.

The overall situation, including MLB’s decision to stop selling potentially offensive goods, could serve as a great topic for discussion among promotional products industry figures. On one hand, the logo, one could say, deserves a nod for having stood the test of time and inspiring deeper appreciation for the home team, but it could also lead someone else to contend that while the logo has proven lucrative, it has done so at such a great cost, that of alienating and angering those who see it as an affront. With yesterday’s announcement, it’s possible to say that each side has put a few runs on the board and that their duel will be heading to extra innings. With what said, where do you see this matter heading next?

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