Commentary: Racist “Chief Wahoo” Benched By Cleveland Indians

Team officials give in to critics of a logo that did nothing more than demean Native Americans.

Posted: 01/13/2014 12:22 PM EST

We ought to praise the Cleveland Indians for their decision to demote “Chief Wahoo” as the team’s primary logo. But we just can’t do it; we can’t praise an organization that should have retired its demeaning logo decades ago.

Until now, the organization and its owners have fought all campaigns to get rid of the Chief, the cartoon image of a big-nosed Native-American warrior. The Dolan family proved as intractable about the “Chief” as Dan Snyder has been about dropping “Redskins” as the racist nickname for the NFL franchise he owns in Washington, D.C.

No matter that Native-Americans staged countless protests outside Progressive Field in Cleveland over the Chief; no matter that sportswriters, Black and white, had voiced their dislike over a colorful logo that offended their sensibilities – the Indians remained firm in supporting the image.

And thousands of fans did like it, a fact not lost on anybody who rooted for the team. The Indians profited from Chief Wahoo, who had adorned their uniforms and caps since the 1920s. It is that history and the dollars it generated that the team clung to.

Yet Americans should not cling to their racism, regardless of how profitable it is. They must take stock of their circumstances and the changing times, and then they recalibrate. An institution like the Indians must look at alternative ways to market a product they sell, ways that will win over their faithful and keep their balance sheet in the black.

Somewhere between those fat profits and this new millennium the Indians did just that.

Why now, though?

Did the Dolans really become more enlightened now than they were when the family, often criticized for its tightfistedness, bought the franchise in the late 1990s? If the family had a moment of enlightenment, so much the better for all of its fans.

The logo was never a badge of pride; it simply spoke to everything that has been bad about America: its racism, its intolerance, its skewed sense of history, its white privilege.

Blacks understood that overt racism better than anybody else. They understood because they had to face similar acts of white defiance in the face of images that abased them.

No one will suffer from seeing far less of Chief Wahoo and more of the block C logo. The latter can stand as a tribute to this down-on-its-luck city that could use an injection of community pride that it hasn’t gotten from any of its sports teams lately.

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Follow Justice B. Hill on Twitter: @jbernardh

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