The days of ‘Chief Wahoo’ on Major League diamonds will come to an end at the conclusion of the 2018 season.
The move, long expected, comes after years of discord and debate over the logo used on team jerseys and caps for the last 70 years. While the cartoon became iconic over the years and remains one of the most recognized logos in professional sports, the decision was made to move away from the hotly contested figurehead as the world continues to move away from imagery and language that can be viewed as offensive by portions of the population.
The announcement that Chief Wahoo would be removed from on-field displays came early Monday morning in a release from MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr.
“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 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.
Cleveland Indians owner Paul Dolan was also quoted in the release, stating “We have consistently maintained that we are cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the discussion. While we recognize many of our fans have a longstanding attachment to Chief Wahoo, I’m ultimately in agreement with Commissioner Manfred’s desire to remove the logo from our uniforms in 2019.”
The divide on the subject matter has been clear for decades and has culminated in a clear split in the fan base in the “De-Chief” and “Keep the Chief” movements popular on social media platforms. The Indians have moved away from using the logo as frequently in recent years, making the current “Block C” the primary logo. The size of Chief Wahoo on players’ caps was reducded while the logo was notably absent from the left sleeve of alternate and holiday uniforms.
The movement to eliminate Chief Wahoo drew additional attention nationwide after the Indians reached the 2016 World Series. Other incidents, including protests outside of Progressive Field and a deplorable exchange between a fan (wearing full red-face to look like the chief with an Indian-themed blue-and-red headdress) and a Native American prior to the 2014 Home Opener, have helped to draw further support in defense of removing the logo.
It is also little surprise that the removal of Chief Wahoo from the Indians uniform comes before the city of Cleveland can host the 2019 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, although the two situations are not said to be related.
Many have pondered if the removal of the Chief Wahoo logo will lead to a total rebranding for the Indians, but according to the team, the name continues to have the support of MLB. Cleveland’s American League baseball club has used the “Indians” moniker since 1915 after using several other names through its first 14 years of existence. The belief that the name was honoring one of the early stars of Cleveland baseball, Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian who played for the city’s National League Spiders affiliate from 1897 to 1899 as is believed to be the first Native American to play professional baseball, has been debunked in recent years, but some portions of the fan base have yet to embrace that narrative.
While Chief Wahoo will not appear on the uniforms of the Indians on the diamond beginning in 2019, the beloved or loathed figure will still appear from time to time on merchandise at the team shop or other local northeast Ohio retail outlets, due in large part to trademark issues. Major League Baseball, however, will not provide those items on its own website.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images