When I was a young kid, I remember visiting my grandfather’s house in rural Ohio. He was a die-hard Cleveland Indians fan his entire life, up until the day he passed away in 2013. He was a truck driver and handyman; he always took me out to his workshop to show me his latest contraption or carpentry.
One of his favorite projects was the painted wooden portraits of his favorite baseball team’s logo. He created them with pride for friends and family, and hung them on trees in his yard or on the walls of his shed. He would have had the time of his life watching the Indians make their postseason run all the way to the World Series in 2016.
The Cleveland Indians, beginning in 2019, will no longer display their “Chief Wahoo” logo on any of their hats, uniforms, or promote the use of the caricature. No plans for a replacement logo have been made, but it seems the Indians will use their scripted “C” as their primary logo.
The team’s historic Chief Wahoo, a stereotypical caricature of a Native American, began with a crooked-nosed, wide-toothed, orange-faced, and goofy-looking cartoon. Hardly edifying if you’re ethnically Native American.
Eventually, the Indians moved on from their initial cringeworthy logo. They replaced it with a more proportional cartoon. Still, not the best look. After all, Native Americans have historically been brutalized and discriminated in the United States, the land of “America’s pastime.”
Columnist Jose de Jesus Ortiz wrote last week in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Humans are not mascots.” He is right. I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime in the near future, the Cleveland Indians dump their mascot altogether in favor of a less controversial name.
Old-school baseball fans, and Indians fans in particular, will cite their historic attachments to the Indians and Chief Wahoo as reasons for keeping the logo. But Major League Baseball has a pair of pandemics on its hands that make this argument obsolete.
First, the average age of a Major League Baseball television viewer in 2016 was 57. Second, despite concerted efforts to promote baseball in inner cities, less than seven percent of current Major League Baseball players are African American. Less than 28 percent are Hispanic, despite the sport’s overwhelming popularity in the Caribbean and Central America.
Soon, a generation of baseball fans smaller than the one that preceded it will be Major League Baseball’s primary viewing audience. Given the progressive social attitudes of younger generations and the inevitable progress of history, they are less likely to have an attachment to the controversial Chief Wahoo logo.
Racist logos and mascots do not encourage youth or minorities toward a sport. In fact, they do the opposite. If Major League Baseball wants to expand its brand, moving away from a controversial logo is a good first step.
If even one kid who has the potential to be a great baseball player doesn’t want to be represented by a team with a demeaning logo, Major League Baseball should take note. The National Football League, historically the most popular professional sports league in the United States, has struggled with decreasing popularity recently because of political controversies.
Baseball hasn’t been immune from politics, either. In this case, social politics threaten to dissolve the prominence of Major League Baseball in the United States. But baseball has an opportunity, with record numbers of kids playing in little leagues, to grow in popularity and even eventually surpass the National Football League as America’s preferred professional sport.
My grandfather, though he had an affinity for the Indians logos he’d paint and hang on the walls of his shed, would care much more whether or not the Indians would win on a given night. Chief Wahoo wasn’t what made the Indians the Indians. It was the game, and the fans, including himself.
Nathaniel Grime is a sophomore studying the liberal arts.