Fans of the Cleveland Indians, a team that has slowly inched away from its controversial “Chief Wahoo” logo for years, have started a Twitter campaign to get rid of the red-faced caricature entirely.
The handle @DeChiefWahoo, which launched Wednesday, is urging fans to remove the logo from their Indians’ gear, and fans instantly began sending in pictures of their hats and jerseys with the logo removed.
— #DeChief (@DeChiefWahoo) March 19, 2014
The Indians have ever-so-slowly inched away from the Chief Wahoo logo, and they announced in January that they would change their primary logo to a block C, although Wahoo is still featured on the uniform sleeves and home cap.
For more than 20 years, Native American groups have protested the Wahoo logo at early-season home games. The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently printed an editorial calling for an end to the racist caricature:
If Wahoo were all that harmless, the giant, neon Wahoo displayed at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium for years would have traveled across town when the team moved to Progressive Field in 1994. It didn’t fit the architecture, the team said.
The Indians have given mixed symbols over their attachment to Wahoo despite the gradual phase-out of the logo. As Marc Tracy documented in The New Republic, the Indians started toying with the block C in 2009, when their spring training home moved to Arizona from Florida.
“Spring training’s a different animal,” senior director of communications Chris Danberg told Tracy, “and when we’ve been in Arizona, we’ve really focused on the block C—being in that region, in that area, we’re certainly cognizant of that.”
Arizona is home to more than 15 times as many Native Americans as Ohio. While the Indians have scaled back their use of Wahoo in a national context and in direct proximity to sizable Native American populations, they still donned Wahoo hats in 60 of 81 home games last season.
Although the Wahoo logo has earned the most protest, Cleveland’s team name is another potential issue. Like the history of the Redskins’ name, the legacy of “Indians” is largely a product of public relations mythmaking.
Eminent sportswriter and Cleveland native Joe Posnanski penned his take of the Indians’ name Tuesday, writing that he originally thought the team was honoring late-19th century Native American ballplayer Louis Sockalexis.
The Sockalexis legend allegedly spawned from a 1948 history of the team, which claimed, “there is a story, still heard frequently, that the Indians were named after a real Indian known as Sockalexis, a wild slugger who joined the National League Spiders in 1897.” Sockalexis may have contributed to the eventual Cleveland renaming. But as Posnanski describes, the roots also come from a racist cartoon that ran in a 1914 edition of the Plain Dealer and a trend of Native American stereotypes being popularized in the media and sports.
With only fitful and incremental movement toward eliminating Chief Wahoo, changing the team name is an entirely different battle, one that is far away from a resolution.