Au revoir, Chief Wahoo.
The Cleveland Indians arrived in the 21st century the other day with the announcement that they are retiring the cartoon character logo of their beloved Chief Wahoo.
The chief, equipped with his goofy grin, has been part of the Indians family since 1947, appearing on one part of their uniform or another, from cap to sleeve. That will end after the 2018 season when, in an attack of good taste, the chief will be exiled.
It’s about time.
Native Americans were a little annoyed at the chief, believing it held their proud heritage up to ridicule. Sort of like calling a United States senator Pocahontas. It’s not polite. We are not supposed to do that sort thing, attacking one another’s feelings. Taunting is one step removed from bullying and has no place in civilized society.
Tell that to the other sports teams who think it’s cool to energize their fan base with images that walk a very thin line.
The most dramatic is the Florida State University Seminoles, who have some innocent student charge out on the football field dressed as Chief Osceola, an Indian warrior, complete with war paint. The chief comes out riding an equally innocent colt, Renegade, pulls up, and drives a burning spear into the ground, a sort of declaration of war on the opposing team.
All of this has been OK with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, a most understanding community.
If Chief Osceola’s act is not terrorizing enough, the FSU fans engage in the tomahawk chop to intimidate opposing players with a blood curdling war chant. It worked so well that Atlanta Braves fans adopted it as part of their support for their team. The tomahawk is also part of the Braves logo. It’s less ominous than the warrior with the flaming spear, but yet …
Compared to that stuff, Chief Wahoo was a rather benign fellow, smiling happily, and not looking like he’s ready to commit mayhem on anybody.
Stanford University’s nickname was the Indians until 1971 when cooler heads prevailed. The University adopted the Cardinal for a nickname and the closest it comes to a mascot is the Stanford Tree, which is part of the school band. It is not an official mascot but rather cute and certainly threatens no one.
The Indians had used warrior images for years until Bill Veeck arrived in 1947 and decided on the cartoon character as the team’s new logo. Chief Wahoo became a popular figure, especially when the team went to the World Series a year after his arrival.
The team has avoided using the chief at training camp in Arizona out of respect for the state’s Indian tribes and the concern that the image might incur some bad feelings. Major League Baseball has suggested that the chief could be offensive and pushed for its removal for some time. Owner Paul Dolan finally agreed and now the chief is about to vanish into franchise history.
Well, not entirely.
Diehard fans of the cartoon logo need not despair. The team is retaining trademark and retail rights to Wahoo so he’ll be available in gift shops for those who wish to purchase items with his image on them.
Here’s a memo for the Washington Redskins, though.