On Monday morning, Major League Baseball announced the news that the upcoming 2018 season will be the last for the Cleveland Indians’ controversial Chief Wahoo logo on their uniforms. The move signals the end of a logo MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made a goal to remove from the league after decades of pressure from Native American groups.
While the logo is not completely going away – due to trademark laws it will be still sold in Cleveland’s souvenir shops and in the Northern Ohio market – this upcoming season will mark the end of Chief Wahoo on Cleveland’s uniforms and marketing.
Make no mistake, this is the right decision from Major League Baseball. In fact, the only mistakes made here are allowing for a “farewell” 2018 season for the Chief Wahoo logo and still selling memorabilia with the logo on it. The latter decision a necessity for the Cleveland franchise that would lose the Chief Wahoo trademark if they failed to provide at least a limited retail presence with the trademark.
The Indians will maintain control of the Chief Wahoo trademark. In order to do so, it will still have a limited retail presence. No retail presence would open door for another party to seize control of the mark and profit from it.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) January 29, 2018
Those who are attached to the logo or who are opposed to removing blatant caricatures Native Americans as logos high profile sports organizations will attempt to argue nobody cared about this issue until the Twitter era. Those people are wrong.
Native American groups have been fighting since the 1970s for the removal of this logo, a logo that was only brought into the Cleveland organization in the 1940s and it took the internet to finally amplify those voices to a more national stage.
In 1972, Russell Means and the Cleveland American Indian Center sued the team for $9 million citing libel, defamation, and slander over the use of the racist logo. That lawsuit took 11 years to settle out of court.
After the 1972 lawsuit, further momentum and lawsuits would carry on throughout the decades. Attempts to pass legislation to negate public funding for the building of Progressive Field if the Wahoo logo was used failed in the 1990s and the Opening Day protests of the logo began the modern protests of the logo issue.
All of those efforts over the past 40 years were rewarded on Monday with the announcement of Chief Wahoo’s impending demise. Attempts to write off the final push to finally give justice to those protesters ignores the work put in by those who spoke first on the issue.
Even with this decision, Chief Wahoo is likely never going away. There are infinitely more fans of the Cleveland Indians in Ohio than they are Native Americans and those fans hold an emotional attachment to a logo ingrained in their childhood memories and regional identity.
What the removal of Chief Wahoo will accomplish is the start of the Cleveland Indians and Major League Baseball recognizing the mistakes made in the branding of their teams in a bygone era. No team would reveal a logo as blatantly racist and hurtful towards a minority group as Chief Wahoo in 2018 and for that reason alone it makes sense to move on.
Today was a seminal moment for all of those who spoke up and brought the oft-ignored voices of Native Americans to the forefront in the face of resistance from hundreds of thousands of Cleveland sports fans — fans who could never or would never realize that their favorite sports logo was racist, simply because they’d seen it stitched on uniforms when they visited the ballpark.
Now, Cleveland can finally move on and begin a new identity for a new generation; one in which kids won’t be indoctrinated into apathy toward Native American issues through the tribalism of sports.
Rest In Peace, Chief Wahoo. You won’t be missed.