Dear Fans of Chief Wahoo

Reading Time: 5 minutes
old and current Chief Wahoo logo, plus words 'Team, Camaraderie, Insensitive, racist, hateful, hope, legacy, memories
Image Credit: N Engineer (Chief Wahoo images from public domain)

Dear Fan of Chief Wahoo,

I don’t know if you were one of the fans who decided it was appropriate to curse obscenities at the protestors outside the stadium at the home opener. I get that your problem with the Indians’ front office is different than mine. You’re upset that they’re trying to take Chief Wahoo away, while I can’t support an institution that obviously knows Chief Wahoo is racist enough that it doesn’t appear in Arizona for spring training, yet finds it perfectly acceptable in Ohio. Or, as sportswriter Craig Calcaterra put it, the Indians organization realize that “in the southwest, there is a much larger Indian population than there is back in Ohio and that not putting up a big racist, comically-exaggerated red-faced logo of an Indian is simply a matter of common courtesy.” Here, apparently, such courtesy is not warranted.

You insist that the logo is meant to honor Native Americans. And yet you curse at the very Native Americans you’re supposedly honoring? By all appearances, your behavior seems to expose the fact that you’re hiding behind a false and convenient mythology.

I’m trying to understand your point of view. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

As you were growing up, you struggled. Maybe you didn’t have a lot of money, your family worked hard and led a reasonably tolerable life. But life in Cleveland wasn’t easy. Maybe your parents worked in the steel factories that have since gone defunct or the auto plant; perhaps they worked long hours in a hospital, a school, their own business. Cleveland is made up hard-working families. Then again, maybe you sprung from a lawyer, a businessman, a doctor, a nurse, a student, working long hours but coming home in time to cheer on the team, to give you all an escape from your day-to-day toils. And baseball was an escape. Gathering as a family, listening to the games on the radio or watching on television, maybe even making it out to some games as a special treat, your heart pounded to the beat of the drum in the center of the back row of the bleachers as the batter awaited the pitch. Arguments were forgotten, troubles dismissed. Your homework was done by game time so you could join in the shared fandom. All across Cuyahoga County and beyond, you were part of a collective.

So many of your memories are intrinsically tied to your home team. You weathered the rough years when the team couldn’t manage a winning season. Still, you showed up at school the next day wearing your replica jersey, precious t-shirt, or lucky hat, commiserated with your classmates. You anxiously clung to hope as you followed the team’s Summer of Wonder in 1994, as the searing heat did nothing to stop the team’s rise. Even when you left town, you followed them, felt the tug of hometown allegiance as you watched in dismay from another time zone as the World Series win slipped through their legs against the Atlanta Braves after a 100-win season, then again in 1997 to the Marlins.

You weathered the management changes, the changing roster of players, pinning hopes on one cast of players then the next, never doubting that this year, all the good vibes you and your fellow Clevelanders had poured into the team’s cup of plenty would finally spill over into victory.

And through all this, you’ve had to deal with enough. The contract disputes, the distractions, the midges, the weather, the drone-induced injury, the 2016 heartbreak. Enough is enough, you think. If we could all just focus all our energy on winning and supporting our team, you think, we could finally bring Cleveland that well-deserved glory. Because we do deserve it.

But consider this.

If you really want to believe that Chief Wahoo is not racist and that no derogatory references were ever made about the great Louis Sockalexis that the team name is meant to honor, read this article. Even in Sockalexis’s time, even when he was playing well, the media was relentlessly racist. Harmless? There’s no such thing. I won’t contend that his eventual descent into alcoholism was because of his mistreatment by the press even in his prime, but the truth doesn’t paint a picture of a harmonious racially-friendly past.

On a side note, have you gone back and watched re-runs of Friends on Netflix? This article points out how now, only a couple decades later, audiences notice how transphobic, homophobic, and sexist the show was. You may dismiss millennials as being overly sensitive, or you could recognize that as time goes on, people evolve. They recognize that hateful comments are inappropriate, and that deriding a group that is generally underrepresented and commonly mistreated is not okay.

It’s frustrating, isn’t it? No memory can be left alone. Why do people, who never had a problem with any of this before, suddenly have to taint your memories? You’re a good person, after all. You’ve never done anyone any harm. And if you have, it had nothing to do with race or homophobia or misogyny or any of that crap everyone’s up in arms about these days. Why does everything have to have a label? Maybe you picked on some kids in middle school (although back in your day it was called junior high), but that was because it was the weird kid who deserved it, you dealt with the same from others, he was a loser, or you didn’t mean any harm or everyone else was doing it, or it wasn’t as bad as what others were doing. Besides, it was a phase, you grew out of it, it was just a little harmless fun.

Only, what if it wasn’t so harmless? What about the other side? The other point of view? Just because you didn’t hear their voices doesn’t mean they weren’t talking; it just means you weren’t listening. Just like telling a kid to stop crying “or I’ll give you something to cry about” doesn’t make the cause of their tears go away, so too does swearing at a group of protestors who insist Chief Wahoo is racist not make it any less so.

You want to preserve your memories, your picture-perfect illusion that the past was pure and good. Well, while you look back at your old ticket stubs, scorecards, newspaper clippings, and photo albums, consider this: Do you suppose that maybe the moments and memories shine because of the time spent with family and friends, the camaraderie shared with fellow Cleveland sports fans, the thrilling games and marvelous rallies, and the emotions evoked from a sense of belonging, and not so much because of the team’s logo and mascot? You followed the Indians when they played at Municipal Stadium, cheered the team on at Jacob’s Field, and now show up at games at Progressive Field. Players come and go, uniforms change (check out the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Uniform Database to see their uniforms over the years), even the precious logo has changed over the years. You can handle change.

As for me, I can’t pretend that everything will be better next year when Chief Wahoo “goes away” officially as if toeing the line of only partially-racist is somehow acceptable. I can’t be satisfied with empty gestures.

You’re not being asked to give up your fond memories. You’re not being asked to root for the Yankees. All that people are asking is that this hateful relic finally goes away.