The Cleveland Indians logo, Chief Wahoo, was born in 1932 when he first appeared in cartoon by Plain Dealer cartoonist Fred George Reinert. The caricature was used as a stand-in for the Cleveland Indians, who had won an important game. Unfortunately, that stand-in became the standard and has lasted far too long.
Over the years the logo has been altered and changed, but it still is what it is, a shameful depiction of a Native American. At age 86, it’s about time for the Chief to quietly move on to some happy hunting grounds in the sky and spend an eternity as a footnote of history. In a perfect world he could quickly and quietly join the ranks of other stereotypic images of the past like the sycophantic Uncle Toms and Black Sambos, buck-toothed Asians, oversexed Hispanic women and hook-nosed Jews.
The management of the Cleveland Indians gave the Chief a little momentum for his journey to oblivion recently when it announced that in the 2019 season, the image will no longer appear on uniforms and stadium signs. But unfortunately, the Chief will live on ad nauseum, appearing on the millions of dollars’ worth of licensed merchandise and in the similarly wealthy world of bootleg/unlicensed merchandise making everything from a baseball cap to socks.
The sad part is that the Chief is one of the most identifiable logos in all major league sports and one that a great many people find no fault with.
This year, for the 25th time, Native Americans and their supporters demonstrated at the Indian’s home opener, to express their opposition to what they believe to be a derogatory depiction of their culture. Exercising their First Amendment rights — those same rights that those at Charlottesville carrying Nazi and Confederate flags so strongly asserted — the demonstrators were met with not just opposition but loud cries of “F…. you,” “get a job” (since their assumption is that Native Americans don’t work) and multiple of racist, xenophobic and insensitive remarks that would make viewers of a Quentin Tarantino blush. The conduct of some of the opponents of Chief Wahoo was so crass and offensive that we Clevelanders should hang our heads in shame.
Now this is clearly not to say that those in the Chief Wahoo Fan Club don’t have a right to voice their opinion. They clearly do. But to curse, scream and racially deride the Native American protestors is just another example of the trend set by our current president, who sees nothing wrong with referring to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” not just once but repeatedly, and most egregiously in front of the Navajo code talkers who served during World War II (unlike Trump who never served in the military because of bone spurs) and saved untold numbers of American lives by conveying messages that could not be deciphered by the Japanese.
Cleveland is a proud city made up of many ethic and racial varieties — each having its own heritage and pride. Those who oppose the removal of Chief Wahoo have every right to express their opinion — just as much right as the protestors to stand and have their voices heard. The wearing of the logo prominently displayed on a piece of clothing is sufficient to state the wearer’s opinion. However, the profanity and crass conduct of some Chief Wahoo supporters this year at the season home opener was shameful.
I’ve never joined in the Chief Wahoo protest on opening day. But next year I intend to go as should every Clevelander whether you believe in the cause or not. Clevelanders should stand up for the right of those Native Americans who wish to express their opinions as well as the rights of the Chief Wahoo supporters. America’s pastime deserves better than what we saw on this past opening day.
C. Ellen Connally is a retired judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court. From 2010 to 2014 she served as the President of the Cuyahoga County Council. An avid reader and student of American history, she serves on the Board of the Ohio History Connection, is currently vice president of the Cuyahoga County Soldiers and Sailors Monument Commission and treasurer of the Cleveland Civil War Round Table. She holds degrees from BGSU, CSU and is all but dissertation for a PhD from the University of Akron.