On Tuesday, the Cleveland Indians will play their first World Series game in two decades. Sharing baseball’s brightest spotlight with them will be what many people consider to be the most offensive image in sports: Chief Wahoo.
Already, to the chagrin of the team’s fans, debate over the controversial logo has intensified — on Twitter, in columns and even in court.
Last week, a Canadian judge denied a request by a Native American activist to bar the Indians from using their name and logo during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Though the litigation failed, it triggered dozens of news stories and a response from Major League Baseball, which said it “appreciates the concerns” of those offended and welcomed “a thoughtful and inclusive dialogue to address these concerns outside the context of litigation.”
Protests against Wahoo date back to at least the 1970s, though they have never garnered the level of national attention that opposition to the Washington Redskins name has in recent years. (That effort suffered a blow in May when a Washington Post poll found that 9 in 10 Native Americans were not offended by the name and that 7 in 10 were not bothered by Indian imagery in sports.)
More than once, sports writers have predicted (incorrectly) that Wahoo’s end was nigh. Last spring, owner Paul Dolan announced that a “Block C” would become the team’s primary logo, but the franchise has continued to use the tomato-red cartoon Native American on hats and uniforms while making millions in revenue from selling Wahoo gear to fans.
And, as Deadspin noted last Monday, the Indians had chosen to wear caps featuring Wahoo in every playoff game to that point.
The team, writer Lindsey Adler argued, was celebrating its postseason success “by rubbing its racism in the faces of every person tuning in to watch baseball at the peak of its season.”
It appears that the Indians don’t plan to change course for the World Series, according to a tweet by ESPN’s Darren Rovell.
In a statement to The Post in August, an Indians spokesman said the team was “very cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the conversation” but had “no plans of making a change.”
On Thursday, NBC Sports lead baseball writer Craig Calcaterra called on Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to act.
“Given the Indians return to the international stage, the usual protests about Chief Wahoo will be louder than they typically are and Commissioner Manfred will be asked about the matter,” Calcaterra wrote. “I hope he does what no one else seems willing or able to do: eliminates Chief Wahoo, now and forever.”
Opponents of the logo often compare it to the black Sambo and the caricatures Nazis used to dehumanize Jews.
Indians supporters regularly attend games dressed in faux Native American regalia. On Opening Day in 2014, longtime fan Pedro Rodriguez — wearing a headdress and Wahoo face paint — was filmed arguing about the issue with Native American activists. He later apologized and quit donning the garb.
In Adler’s piece for Deadspin, she asked the same question activists have for years: Would any team condone legions of its fans showing up to games in blackface?
“This is a function of a vastly larger problem,” she wrote, “which is that racism against Native Americans is just not viewed with the same seriousness as other kinds of racism in America.”
Meanwhile, angst over the logo has once again surfaced on team message boards. Since the playoffs started, commenters on realcavsfans.com have written more than 150 posts on a thread devoted to the Wahoo controversy.
Last week, the Indians’ hometown paper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, devoted an entire story to fans’ reaction to the Canadian lawsuit.
Most expressed something between anger and frustration.
“There will always be someone offended by something. PC is way out of control,” wrote one person.
“I am not Indian nor do I view our logo as offensive to anyone as it is clearly a cartoon like figure,” wrote another. “The day the Cleveland Indians relinquish the name or the logo is the day I stop rooting for them.”
But at least one fan disagreed.
“I think if they eliminated Chief Wahoo a lot of the issue would be resolved,” the person wrote. “Plus, it’s just an image — and if it is offensive (and I would rely on those with Native American heritage to be a much better judge than a fan) I think the respectful thing to do would be to move on from the Chief anyway.”