Hail to the (End of) the Chief

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First, I want everyone to know how proud I am of Tito and the boys for an amazing 2016 season and an even more incredible World Series. I’ve made peace with the outcome. Congrats, Cubbos – you deserve it!

Second, and of equal or greater importance, I want to apologize for the role I’ve played in keeping Chief Wahoo around and contributing to institutionalized racism against Native American Indians. I don’t think I’ve ever publicly defended the existence of the Chief, but I’ve never spoken out against it, either. In 1998, my family named our Bernese Mountain Dog puppy – who defied karma and was 100% perfect in every way – after Chief Wahoo. I had a huge Fathead Chief Wahoo on my bedroom wall for ten years… In my defense, I was a small-town kid who didn’t know any better. And, for the record, I no longer wear or exhibit any Cleveland paraphernalia displaying the Chief or the Indians’ name. But I’m still thoroughly embarrassed by the way I did in the past. Every time I see Chief Wahoo, I cringe… but I can’t bring myself to abandon the team I’ve grown up with, so I’m hoping I can encourage change from the inside out. I’m devastated that such ignorance and disrespect still exists, and I’m bummed that the team’s talent is overshadowed by a name and an image.

Please read this article – it says most of what I’ve been wanting to say including all the research I would’ve done/already did to back it up. I don’t want to plagiarize or imitate, so I’ll just add what makes this issue so personal for me: I have loved and supported this team longer and more ardently than I have loved and supported most people. Ask anyone who’s ever met me, and they’ll verify. But over the past several years, Chief Wahoo has prevented me from fully supporting the Cleveland ball club I’ve loved my whole life. The Chief is racist, insensitive, and even the MLB has realized he needs to go. Supposedly, the team has been “scaling back” usage of Wahoo in favor of the “block-C” as its primary logo… but throughout the entire postseason, Wahoo emblazoned the cap on each player’s head. Knowing the prevalence of silly superstitions at each level of athletics, I almost understand why they kept wearing the same hats. But superstition can’t excuse a racist image.

The Indians’ name is almost as bad. It’s the result of European immigrants/tyrants misidentifying and decimating Native American Indians. It’s outdated and offensive. As Emily Hauser compares in the article I previously mentioned, “Let’s imagine for a moment that the team was named after some other long-maligned, long-oppressed group. I don’t know, let’s say the Jews? Imagine the swarthy, hook-nosed face of Ol’ Hymie on the players’ caps. And hey, if fans want to use Jewish prayer shawls for rally towels, it’s just good fun… If you made him swarthy and swapped a yarmulke for his feather, Wahoo would be right at home in a Nazi pamphlet.”

It’s time to embrace the team’s ballpark’s name – Progressive Field – and make progress in respecting others. The Indians are also known colloquially as “The Tribe.” “Tribe” has several definitions, all of which describe a group or aggregate of some sort – which, sure, is an accurate description of Cleveland baseball fans (though I agree moving away from the Native American connotation altogether would be best). Rebranding the team from the “Indians” to the “Tribe” wouldn’t have to be a terribly messy transition. My talented designer friend Kyle drew some mockups for what a potential rebrand could look like, and it easily fits with the team’s current aesthetic:

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As evidenced by the 2016 season and postseason, Cleveland and its fanbase are strong, gritty, and deeply attached to history and tradition. I sincerely hope our commitment to integrity soon outweighs our attachment to the Chief and the name.

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