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Does Changing a Logo Change the Team?

Graphic by First and Fan. Logos property of the Cleveland Indians and Major League Baseball.

The Cleveland Indians organization announced Tuesday morning that they will no longer use the Chief Wahoo logo starting in 2019. The Chief Wahoo logo, which has been scrutinized for its stereotypical imagery and design, was the official primary logo of the Cleveland Indians from 1946 to 2013, and the alternate logo since 2014.

Old ticket promotion with a depiction of Chief Wahoo from 1948.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred urged Indian’s principal owner, Paul Dolan, to remove the Chief Wahoo logo from the field for the last year, stating that,“Major League Baseball is committed to building a culture of diversity and inclusion throughout the game. Over the past year, we encouraged dialogue with the Indians organization about the club’s use of the Chief Wahoo logo. During our constructive conversations, Paul Dolan made it clear that there are fans who have a longstanding attachment to the logo and its place in the history of the team.”

Looking at the entire situation from a different perspective, however, if the Indians’ team logo was their normal block-style C, and team ownership announced for the first time they planned to use the Chief Wahoo logo as the new team logo, the outcry would be deafening. Only the team’s “tradition” justifies their continued use of the logo.

Chief Wahoo welcomed fans outside the Indian’s stadium in Cleveland.

Objectively, the caricature of a Native American highlights racists stereotypes. It’s tenure with the team and significance as the Indian’s primary logo for nearly 70 years creates a sentimental association with the logo, however, which is one of the longest arguments for its preservation. Despite the sentimental values however, racial insensitivity has no place in sports. In 2014, Donald Sterling was forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers and was subsequently banned for life from the NBA after he was recording saying the N-word in a private conversation. Native Americans are significantly less protected than other minorities in recent years, so for such impressive support against Donald Sterling’s one-time incident and such strong opposition to the removal of a racist caricature from a multi-billion dollar league shows that we are not living in an equal society nor a post-racial society.

 

 

Various Cleveland Indians primary logos from the 1939 season to 2013

 

The Indian’s logo from the 1939 to 1945 season shows a more respectful and accurate depiction of a Native American, and the proposed replacement logo shows a similar focus surrounding team history, but with a respectful nod to the heritage their team claims to embrace, dangling Native American feathers from the block C logo.

The Indians aren’t the only team using a Native American mascot or team name, so why aren’t others scrutinized in the same way? Beginning with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, one can see they are a clearly different case than the Cleveland Indians. As CBS’s Tim Baffoe puts it, “The Hawks don’t use a caricature or slur that other teams have come under fire for. In fact, there is almost zero Native American ‘stuff’ used by the organizations other than their just very famous logo.” The founder of the Chicago Blackhawks, Major Frederic McLaughlin, was an officer of the 86th Infantry “Blackhawk” Division in the Army in World War I. The Blackhawks logo was actually designed by McLaughlin’s wife in 1926 as well. Still, while the team was not named after the Sauk war chief Black Hawk, their logo depicts a Native American, which some Natives still find offensive and discriminatory towards their heritage.

“The American Psychological Association and several other studies have found that these types of logos and mascots do impact the mental health and self esteem of marginalized people and have a significant impact on Native children. So while to some it might be ‘just a logo’ or ‘just a cartoon’, just because that is one’s reaction and opinion doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a greater impact on others that you might not have thought of or considered.”

The Washington Redskins logo is arguably one of the most respectful logos of those depicting Native Americans, although most people take more offense to the team’s derogatory name than their logo. Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder has consistently fought against efforts to change the team’s name, claiming “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.” Changing a team’s name and logo is no small task, but it’s also not the end of the world. While many Seattle natives are upset they no longer have the Supersonics, or while the people of Montreal miss the Expos franchise, these changes were not forced but rather were the result of changes in team ownership. Many colleges have changed their team names in efforts to respect Native Americans and other groups, such as the St. John’s Red Storm (formerly the Redmen), the Stanford Cardinals (formerly the Indians), the Dartmouth Big Green (formerly the Indians), and North Dakota Fighting Hawks (formerly the Fighting Sioux). While it hurt to change their team’s names and seemingly their school’s identity, these name changes have little to no effect on the Universities’ long term athletic outlook and ended a justified controversy.

Other schools have taken different approaches. Florida State, mascot the Seminoles, have gone to great lengths to ensure the Seminole Tribe of Florida feel no disrespect by the team’s use of their name and imagery. In 2014, the school and athletic department consulted with the Seminole tribe to ensure that their new uniform revamps would still respect the tribe.

Sports are much more popular than they were 75+ years ago thanks to the widespread availability to view and follow them, but some of the most popular teams in professional sports used to be named after Native Americans and they too changed their team names and logos. The Golden State Warriors first logos depicted a caricature Native American before their current logo was first adopted in 1969. The logo change hasn’t altered the team’s legacy in any significant way whatsoever.

  

The Indians should simply learn from the efforts of teams like the Warriors or the Florida State Seminoles. Becoming violently upset because their obviously racist logo depicting a caricature of a silenced minority is no longer going to be mass produced on merchandise is simply ignorant. Just as no one should defend Yuli Gurriel for making a slanted-eyes gesture at Yu Darvish after homering off him, no one should defend the efsef Wahoo logo any longer. If the logo were respectful and considerate, or if efforts were made to find an acceptable alternative with the involvement of actual natives, such as how Florida State approached the subject, perhaps the MLB and the public would be much more accepting of the Indians. Until then, teams like the Redskins have no excuse for making zero efforts to respect a marginalized group of modern society.