Our messy relationship with Chief Wahoo ends: While We’re Waiting


Happy Tuesday, WFNY!

Over the weekend, I was looking for some documents in my house. They weren’t where I expected them to be, of course. So I had to start going through some old storage containers to find them. Naturally, as these things tend to go, I ended up mostly rummaging through old memories and finding things I hadn’t thought about in a very long time.

One of the things I found was a very old keychain. I’ve owned a lot of keychains in my life, but this is one the first ones I ever recall owning. It was a simple metallic Chief Wahoo keychain. The red color has faded and chipped away over the years, part of the top of the keychain has broken off completely. I still own this keychain and refuse to throw it away for one simple reason. It was given to me by my grandfather, who unfortunately is no longer with us. This keychain is a memento of a memory.

And that’s really the tricky thing about Chief Wahoo and our relationship to it as fans. I’m not going to attempt to argue it’s not offensive. In my opinion, it’s clearly offensive, and more importantly, in the opinion of many American Indians, it is not only offensive but a constant reminder of their own marginalization in American culture and history.

Having said all that, though, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a deeper connection to me and this unfortunate logo. Yes, Chief Wahoo means pain and suffering to many of the approximately 5 million American Indians in the United States,1 but to me, it represents a generational and family bond.

Indeed, when I look at Chief Wahoo, I don’t see a racist icon or the marginalization of a people. I see memories. I remember going to Municipal Stadium for my first Indians game. I remember my mom and dad taking my brother, sister, and myself to games at Jacob’s Field. I remember talking about Indians baseball with my dad and uncles and with my grandfather. It’s about holding that keychain in my hand and thinking about how much I miss my grandfather. These are special memories for me.

So sure, I completely understand why many Cleveland fans didn’t want to see Chief Wahoo go. I get why this was a more difficult decision for the franchise than it probably should have been. I don’t think most of these people are racists and/or bigots. I think a lot of it is just a different context.

Here’s the thing, though. The Cleveland Indians organization removing Chief Wahoo doesn’t actually change any of that. My memories of my grandfather aren’t dying with the Chief. My memories of going to all those games with my family are still there. I’ll still talk Cleveland baseball with my dad every chance I get. It won’t cheapen the experience for me, and I really doubt it will for anyone else, either.

Proponents of the logo often like to say “It’s just a logo.” And they’re right, it’s just a logo. And that’s why we’ll all get over it. There’s no real, tangible pain point here for us. And if getting rid of the logo helps ease the pain of whatever percentage of American Indians are offended and hurt by the logo, then this is nothing but a net positive. And we should focus on that positive.

I hear so many people say things like “I wish they’d get rid of the logo just so we can stop having these debates” and I get that perspective. However, I don’t want that to be the reason we got rid of the logo. I want it to be a positive, not a resignation. We should focus on what a great thing it is the Cleveland Indians organization and Major League Baseball are doing. You don’t have to agree that the logo is offensive, but you cannot deny that many American Indians are offended by it. And if you don’t believe me, just do a simple Google search. Their voices are out there and you can read about the ways sports logos like Chief Wahoo have pushed false stereotypes and influences perspective of American Indian culture in American culture at large.

The best part about being human is we get to be messy. We are riddled with contradictions and hypocrisy. It’s ok to admit that there are parts of us that have fond memories of Chief Wahoo while also acknowledging that getting rid of it is the right thing to do. It’s been annoying watching fans yell at each other and call each other names over the years. Wahoo has become an increasingly divisive figure among Cleveland sports fans. And yeah, I’m happy Wahoo is gone for that reason as well. I, too, was sick of the debates.

It’s ok to look at this issue from varying points of view. It’s ok to admit that it’s hard to figure out what to do with a logo that is offensive to some but not all American Indians (and maybe not even a majority). It’s going to be ok to move on, as well. The Cleveland baseball team isn’t going anywhere. We can still root for them and be frustrated by them and argue attendance issues with other fans. None of that is going to change. When 2020 comes around, the Cleveland Indians will still be here, and that’s really the only thing that matters in this debate.

And yeah, I’ll still have my keychain.

  1. I’m not interested in playing the game of pretending I know what percentage are offended by the use of their likeness in a team logo or that the percentage even really matters. Yes, there are polls suggesting that the overwhelming majority of American Indians are not offended by Indian names and mascots used in sports. No, I don’t think 10 percent is an insignificant number, nor do I think any of this even really matters. I think it’s just good policy to not name our sports teams after races and/or ethnic groups, nor do I think using their likeness is in good taste, offensive to anyone or not. []