Back in the early infancy of this site, we wrote a piece about Chief Wahoo, the mascot for the baseball team in Cleveland. That article began with a note that the Cleveland front office had announced that “the controversial Chief Wahoo logo worn with the navy blue home alternate jerseys, seen in the 2016 World Series, will be phased out for the 2017 season. Replacing Wahoo, would be red hats with the block “C.”
However, the team continued to wear the “Chief Wahoo” logo with their Home Whites, and their Road Alternates for the 2017 season. That means that out of the six uniform options for game time, Chief Wahoo was on the sleeve of all six, but on the hats of only two.
That was in 2017. So how far have we come?
In 2019, Cleveland hosted the All-Star game which meant that the team would wear a commemorative patch all season, bumping Wahoo off their uniforms. Great progress, right? Finally, Cleveland was making the right call!
Not really. In an article from Cleveland’s own website, this is how they framed the issue.
“For now, the Indians are down to two logos — the Block C and the script Indians lettering. The All-Star Game logo buys the club another year to decide whether to replace the Wahoo logo with something new.
“That’s still in process,” [Indians senior vice president of public affairs Bob] DiBiasio said. “I’m not even sure where we are along that path yet. With the All-Star Game patch, it gives us more time to work through those issues. Do we move to a third [logo]? That’s still up for debate.”
… How can you not be sure of where you are “along that path” when you’re the Senior VP of Public Affairs? How does that work? I mean, DiBiasio had a stronger opinion on wearing red pants than he did on Chief Wahoo, so you know where his priorities lie.
So here we are in 2020, with the football team in Washington retiring their hateful, racist name and logo and hopefully coming up with something good ahead of the upcoming season. The baseball team in Cleveland, on the other hand… They’re out of time, both literally and figuratively.
Let’s talk figuratively first, shall we?
The Chief Wahoo logo was created in 1948, but the team’s name goes back to 1915. After the departure of star Nap Lajoie, Cleveland Naps owner Charles Somers asked a group of local reporters to come up with a name for the team. That group of reporters landed on “Indians.” Why?
The Cleveland Spiders, one of the worst ball clubs in history, had a player by the name of Louis Francis Sockalexis, the first Native American baseball player, from 1897 to 1899. Due to his presence on the Spiders, reporters nicknamed the entire team “The Indians.”
That’s how the team got their name. A story brimming with history!
The logo itself is a whole other ball of yarn, and frankly, if I have to explain to you why, then you’re just too lost for me to help you. When the team was renamed “the Indians,” we still had minstrel shows in the U.S. I can’t bring you back into the 21st Century if you’re arguing from that far back.
And for the last decade or so, we’ve seen vocal protests to remove the logo and change the name. That’s good. But Cleveland has slow-walked those changes. In 2017, Wahoo was still on jerseys. In 2019, they weren’t sure what would happen. And now in 2020, they’re looking into a name change.
And you can thank the football team in Washington for that.
One of my favorite questions that I used to get asked all the time was “Which team changes their logo first: Washington or Cleveland?” And my answer was always the same.
You see, as long as the football team in Washington still had their name intact, and the baseball team in Cleveland had theirs, neither one was going to change. Why should they right? If two teams are doing it, then both fanbases can sit back and say “well, at least we’re not the other guys.” They can lean on “history” and “tradition” and “familial ties.”
The brilliant Angelica Ritchie put it best:
“The first and most popular objective from any institution to changing a controversial name is connection to the past. The generational affinity and loyalty a fan may feel to your name seems tantamount to your history itself. This objection both underestimates fans and overestimates moral absolutism.”
It’s all garbage. It’s all made up to protect each other from being the last man standing. And after years of slow-walking their change, while Washington took a stance of “from my cold, dead hands,” Cleveland is now the last man standing. And not only that, they are visible, vulnerable, and very much out of time.
Remember the literal part? Here it comes.
We’re now just over a week away from the re-start of the 2020 MLB season and Cleveland has no choice but to wear their slated uniforms. And while Chief Wahoo did not make the jump from Majestic uniforms to Nike’s new ones, the name emblazoned across the front is still the same.
With the eyes of the country upon the MLB as it retakes the diamond, the team in Cleveland will be representing the ugliness of the past, and the lack of promise for the future. The baseball team in Cleveland is going to have to wear their shame across their chest for the world to see.
And honestly, I’m okay with that.
The baseball team in Cleveland could have picked any moment to make a shift away from their racist logo and racist name. Instead, they have to trot it out one last time in front of a radically changing world, as the last man standing in the pantheon of racist sports team names. They have outlasted their competition, they have reaped what they have sewn. And now, the world can see just how long it’ll truly take for Cleveland to enact change.
The Cleveland Indians are out of time. And frankly, that’s their own goddamn fault.
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