The Argument to Keep Chief Wahoo

This is part three in a series discussing the history and current controversy surrounding the Cleveland Indians name and logo, Chief Wahoo. This article will be a discussion of the arguments for keeping the Indians logo.

The debate around Chief Wahoo is far less serious than that around the Indians name itself, but it still deserves discussion. The reason it is less important is that the Indians have been slowly shrinking and eliminating the red-faced caricature from their uniforms, hats and buildings since 2002. At the present rate, it wouldn't be surprising to see him completely gone from everything but the occasional throw back uniform by the year 2020. This argument then, it not that he should be kept around forever, but that the Indians should be able to phase him out the way they prefer, instead of being forced by the league, congress, the President of the United States or anyone else that has an opinion on the case.

The first article that needs to be addressed is why the logo is considered offensive and racist. If it truly is, then it should be eliminated immediately, but if those claiming so are just being overly sensitive, then it isn't a big deal. The first comment always made in this case is about the chief's bright red skin. The fact is, it is a logo, which should generally be done in team colors and should be as simple as possible. While it isn't a perfect representation of the Native American skin color, there is no doubt at least some red pigment in the skin of all human beings and the red used is the closest between the Indians team color of bright red and an average skin tone. The fact is, people from Boston don't have gray skin (Patriots), dolphins aren't teal, ravens aren't purple and the Irish don't have literally white skin. All mascots take liberties with colors. It is part of taking something recognizable and making it obviously affiliated with a particular team. 

This simplification is true with cartoons as well. This chief (to the right) is from the Disney movie Peter Pan (1953), an extremely well known and accepted children's movie. His face is toned somewhere between the Indians and the Braves logos and his portrayal in the movie is more than a little stereotypical. Of course, this is not the only occurrence of such a portrayal. This is how Native Americans have been portrayed for more than a century. Compared to Peter Pan and the many other cartoons and movies of the time period, Chief Wahoo is incredibly tame. Also, remember that as Peter Pan was created in 1953, two years after the current incarnation of Chief Wahoo. 

The disposition of the logo is also important. Logos with features (as opposed to those made of letters), often assume a mood, and Chief Wahoo can be said to be nothing but extremely happy. He has a wide grin and large eyes, showing that he was created in the time when the Indians had just won the World Series and not during the 60 year drought that came after. Other logos that feature humans take a much different route. Atlanta's Screaming Brave portrays a wild and angry savage. Like the Indians, they have dropped back use of this logo in recent years and for good reason. Another human logo, the Fighting Irishman of Notre Dame is shown as a violent drunk, yet is beloved by those whom it stereotypes. Chief Wahoo is more like the happy Friar of the San Diego Padres, who is likewise an oversimplified version of a very small minority of the American population.

The mood of the logo brings up intent, an essential part of any freedom of expression argument. Whether the offended parties may not want to agree, the Indians were named after the first Native American to play professional baseball and continue to hold reverence to the great history of Native Americans in the state of Ohio. While the Braves and Fighting Irish's names and logos are meant to be intimidating, Chief Wahoo is meant to be more of a happy reminder. While Atlanta continues to promote Native Americans as mindless killers with their Tomahawk chop and chants, the Indians and Chief Wahoo maintain much more respect, showing Indians as human beings, similar to the caricatures that represent the Minnesota Vikings and the USC Trojans.

Finally, some people have a problem with Chief Wahoo being a caricature, rather than more of a portrait, like the Redskins logo. His large triangle eyes, big nose and single feather are said to be further exaggerations of the stereotypes portrayed of Native Americans, but this should actually make him less offensive. There is no human being on earth that actually looks anything like Chief Wahoo, therefore he doesn't directly represent any individual person. If anyone can look at the Indians logo and think that it is making fun of them on an individual level, they need to get a mirror and some self esteem. Unless your cheek sticks out two inches from the rest of your face and your eyes are triangle shaped instead of round, the chief was not designed directly after you or your race. To say the chief is offensive to Native Americans is essentially saying that any caricature of anyone ever is offensive to the person being drawn. Hurry, someone get down to Cedar Point and end this oppression right now!

Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since it's inception in 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians.

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