Idle No More: Bidding Chief Wahoo Farewell

The Cleveland Indians baseball team is responsible for the Chief Wahoo character.  It’s a character that’s been the center of media reported protests for nearly two generations.  Earlier this month, the team announced that their primary logo going forward would be something other than Chief Wahoo.  In fact, the offensive logo has slowly but surely been taking a barely noticeable fade-to-black as the offensive logo is being phased out.

Logo From Sports Yahoo!

Logos from Sports Yahoo!

Few people are aware of the background on the story of the Chief Wahoo logo.  You see, back in 1897, the team was known as the Cleveland Spiders, and it was in 1897 that a North American Native baseball player by the name of Louis Sockalexis made his major league debut.  Unfortunately, the three years he spent playing major league baseball put the talented ballplayer front and center for racial slurs.  Adding insult to injury, war dances mocking his heritage became a common sight as his detractors subjected him to non-stop abuse on and off the field.

When the decision was made a few years later to change the name of the team, the owners opted for the Cleveland Indians in response to Boston naming their team the Boston Braves.  By 1928, it was determined that the team logo that season would feature an Indian chief.  Years later, the spin doctors claimed it was in honor of Louis Sockalexis who had joined the Cleveland Spiders in 1897.

In 1947, a 17-year-old was given charge to design a new emblem for the team, and Chief Wahoo (as he became known) depicted as a smiling Indian face , yellow skin and a prominent nose was born.  A few tweaks over the years, and he became the logo that is familiar with baseball fans the world over.  As for his name, that was the name hung on the logo by sportswriters and sports announcers.

By 1971, First Nations peoples were making waves in mainstream media, denouncing the logo as being racist.  The late Russell Means, then leader of the Cleveland American Indian Movement, lead countless protests against the misappropriation and gross misuse of Indigenous culture.  The efforts of the Cleveland American Indian Movement were met with derision, with reporters responding to protests with scathing editorials and commentaries ridiculing the effort of the movement.

In 2007, a reporter for the New York Times noted that Chief Wahoo had a diminished presence in Cleveland’s home stadium that year, and he wondered if perhaps Chief Wahoo wasn’t being phased out.

In 2009, Chief Wahoo was replaced with a red C on batting helmets.

In 2011, Chief Wahoo was removed from its road caps.

In 2013, batting helmets with nary a sign of Chief Wahoo were worn during home games.  What’s more, at the 2013 All-Star Game FanFest, none of the merchandise carried the Chief Wahoo logo.

In 2014, a visit to the Cleveland Indians’ website proudly displayed the new primary logo near the top of the home page, and Chief Wahoo, although still on the website, was given considerably less visibility.

Meanwhile the Washington Redskins insist on keeping their offensive logo, and refusing to change their team name.  By the time such teams are forced to change their names and logos, people will scarcely remember the days when Cleveland ran with an offensive name and logo.  The slow but steady move to rebrand the team will ensure that fan loyalty remains firmly entrenched, and that the memory of the misappropriation and misuse of Indigenous culture will be buried deep in the annals of sports team history.

Elyse Bruce

UPDATE ON STORY (6 April 2014)


2 Responses to “Idle No More: Bidding Chief Wahoo Farewell”

  1. mutanatia Says:

    I have two questions for you:
    1) Do you believe this to be part of a trend?
    2) Do you object to their website still having “old-timey” pictures of the Indian greats with the logo on their helmet or uniform, should they put any up?

    • Elyse Bruce Says:

      1. I would hope that it’s part of a trend but I think it will take more than just a couple of teams changing their ways before it can be called a trend.

      2. If we insist that a team’s history be hidden, is that not re-writing history by keeping the facts hidden away from others? How would this encourage open dialogue and how would this encourage people to look at their own biases and consider if those biases are impacting negatively on others?

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