What Is Chief Wahoo? Cleveland Indians To Phase Out Logo Many Deemed Offensive

"Chief Wahoo" is out in Cleveland. For the most part. Just not right away.

Beginning in the 2019 season, Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians will do away with the cartoonish Native American logo/mascot—which many felt was racist—that it has employed for decades. After 2018, it will no longer appear on the team's jersey or on displays in the stadium.

"Major League Baseball is committed to building a culture of diversity and inclusion throughout the game," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "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, [Clevland Indians CEO] Paul Dolan made clear that there are fans who have a longstanding attachment to the logo and its place in the history of the team. Nonetheless, the club ultimately agreed with my position that the logo is no longer appropriate for on-field use in Major League Baseball, and I appreciate Mr. Dolan’s acknowledgement that removing it from the on-field uniform by the start of the 2019 season is the right course."

The Chief Wahoo logo—the face of a Native American, printed in red, with a wide smile and a feather popping out of the back of his head—was adopted by the Cleveland Indians in 1951. (It replaced a far more offensive illustration, if you can believe it.) The look of Chief Wahoo underwent some revisions in the following decades, but for the most part the cartoon became the face of Cleveland's baseball team.

Naturally, there are baseball fans in Cleveland who are attached to the logo. Many others, meanwhile, deem it to be a racially offensive carcitature of Native Americans. Advocacy groups have long pushed for the logo to be banned and had requested meetings with Manfred to talk about the issue.

In the past, the commissioner had said logos were typically a local issue while acknowledging he understood why folks would find Chief Wahoo offensive. Advocates in opposition of the logo have protested Cleveland's home opener every year for years. Many are also in opposition to the team being nicknamed the Indians at all. (There are echoes of the uproar over the name "Redskins" in Washington in the debate over Chief Wahoo.)

A statement from Dolan seemed to suggest the shift away from the logo was at the urging of Manfred. "We have consistently maintained that we are cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the discussion," Dolan said. "While we recognize many of our fans have a long-standing attachment to Chief Wahoo, I'm ultimately in agreement with Commissioner Manfred's desire to remove the logo from our uniforms in 2019."

Cleveland won't break away from Wahoo in an instant, however. While the logo will disappear from both uniforms and stadium displays next year, merchandise branded with the logo will still be allowed to be sold in local shops but not on the MLB's website, according to the New York Times

Many sports teams across all levels of sports have stopped using Native American imagery as mascots or logos, while others—most notably the NFL's Washington team—have continued to do so despite pressure to make a name change. 

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