Monday, October 15, 2007

Wahoo In The Playoff? Time To Protest!

The following story appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sunday, October 14, 2007.

Cleveland's American Indian leaders renew Chief Wahoo protest. Sunday, October 14, 2007
Robert L. Smith
Plain Dealer Reporter
Leaders in Cleveland's American Indian community are excited that the city's baseball team has returned to the playoffs, but they are loath to see someone else making a comeback:
Chief Wahoo, the Indians' grinning, red-faced mascot.
The once-fading emblem is suddenly everywhere, they say, clearing a path for other Wild West stereotypes.
“War bonnets. Face paint. Feathers galore. It's really being thrown in our faces right now," said Chris Begay, a Cleveland-area Navajo and chairman of a local indigenous-rights group called the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance.
The group plans to sponsor demonstrations before the Monday and Tuesday night games at Jacobs Field.
Protesters will again press team officials to change the team name and mascot but also will beseech fans not to return to the days of war whoops and tomahawk chops.

Many of us can sympathize with the reasoning behind the protest of the team mascot but you have to question the timing of the protest. Is it because the team is in the playoffs? Wasn’t Chief Wahoo bothersome to this group prior to making the playoffs or is it the national exposure of this team being in the playoffs that brings out the protesters?
We need to first examine a little history.
It was once believed that the team name “Indians” was in honor of an American Indian that played for the team in the late 1800’s. Louis Francis “Chief” Sockalexis was believed to be the first American Indian to play in major league baseball. (That fact is a topic of some debate.) He played for the Cleveland Spiders from 1897 to 1899. Some newspaper accounts point to the naming of the team in his honor. Further research fails to verify that fact 100% as the local newspapers asked fans to name the team in 1915. It is believed that the sports writers selected “Indians” from the entries from their fans and readers. It is entirely possible that those entries were to honor Sockalexis but this cannot be proven.
The original caricatures depict a profile of an Indian chief in full headdress. They first appeared as the logos in the early 1930’s.
From 1946 to 1950, the version that is considered the most repulsive to the American Indians was created and used.
In 1950, the current version was created and has been in place since then.
Most Clevelanders love their Chief Wahoo and do not mean it to be anything derogatory. But are they being insensitive?
What if the logo was to change again to something more complimentary?
Would the team name “Indians” still be suitable if the logo was "acceptable?"
What if we changed the name of the team to the Cleveland Americans?
Would Americans be offended if the caricature resembled Jed Clampett?
Instead of war whoops we could cheer “Wee Doggies!”
Or, the mascot could be a pampered business person in a suit with an I-pod and portable computer who is talking very loudly into an I-phone through a Bluetooth.
Have you watched Jeopardy recently? Lately they have been featuring young students as contestants on the show. These children are pre-high school aged. It is scary what they do not know of the history of this country. Sitting and watching the show, you cannot help but wonder what traditions and cultures will be forgotten because either they aren’t being taught or they aren’t being retained for whatever reason. From American Geography to American History, simple questions are either answered incorrectly or there is no answer attempted!
So, if the impetus of the protests are driven by an offensive caricature to the American Indian and not by the timing of the national publicity of the playoffs, then we need to make a change.
I suggest a change to the Cleveland Americans, seriously. The mascot or logo could be a blending of hundreds of faces from this country; service men and women, business people, contractors, teachers, doctors, lawyers, waiters and waitresses, etc. In one hand could be a symbol of hard work, the other hand could be reaching out to aid someone or some other country. And yes, make it a caricature because this country has a great sense of humor and is not too proud to laugh at itself.
When you go to the game, be tolerant of the Chief Wahoo protesters, possibly sympathetic.
Oh, and Go Cleveland Team!


Brian said...

As a New Yorker who has been living in Cleveland for the last few years, I have done my fair share of head shaking at the image of Chief Wahoo, which is omnipresent in this area. As an outsider, the caricature seems so harsh that one thinks the locals must be out of their minds to try and defend it.

The strange thing is, after living here some time, I can almost understand why no one can see the racism of the image - they LOVE this cartoon character here. It is only associated with good things, racism never really enters these people's heads. In a blue-collar town where plants have closed, jobs have been lost, and the economy isn't what it used to be, the Wahoo character's off-center, not-quite-right image is almost a badge of pride. Maybe people here can identify with a character whose time feels past. Even if the team phases out use of the image, I'm quite sure Chief Wahoo will be adorning signs, bar windows, and garage doors in the area for many years to come.

My company put out of line of shirts that we feel makes a humorous point about the Indians' Mascot by turning the tables and leveling the playing field:


Big Daddy said...

Well said, Brian.
Thanks for your comments.
I too, love the Chief.
He's in my blood.
After the Indians won their last World Series, 9 months later I was born...Mom and Dad were big fans too!