Ending an 80-year tradition, the Cleveland Indians have announced that they will remove the “Chief Wahoo” mascot from their uniforms beginning in the 2019 season. While several activist groups have celebrated the move as long overdue, as the mascot has been accused of being offensive to Native Americans, it’s unclear why the ball club made the decision.
First, was there any real pressure to change the logo? The modern fight to purge professional sports teams of Native American mascots was seemingly abandoned in 2016 when the Washington Post found that nine of ten Native Americans polled took no offense at the Washington Redskins’ logo or team name. It’s true that the Indians have been slowly moving away from Indian-related imagery, having swapped Chief Wahoo out on their caps to a block “C” in 2014, but this latest move seems like MLB head honchos attempting to get ahead of a future resurgence of this controversy.
Second, the mascot didn’t come from a place of racism originally, and modern Indians fans don’t wear it out of spite or to perpetuate stereotypes. Indians pitcher Allie Reynolds, himself a Native American, was the inspiration for the name, as “Chief Wahoo” was a sobriquet for Reynolds. Plus, the original image was intended to be jovial, whereas the oft-cited problem with Native American mascots is that they perpetuate a stereotype of savagery.
All in all, it looks like an unnecessary and misguided attempt at heading off a controversy.