Cleveland Indians: We're dumping Chief Wahoo -- because MLB told us to

Hugh Hewitt hardest hit? After more than seventy years, the Cleveland Indians will part ways with their famous and notorious logo, Chief Wahoo, which has been the subject of protests for years. The New York Times reports that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred pressured Indians chair Paul Dolan into making the change:

The Cleveland Indians will stop using the Chief Wahoo logo on their uniforms beginning in 2019, according to Major League Baseball, which said the popular symbol was no longer appropriate for use on the field. …

Chief Wahoo, a cartoonish caricature of a Native American that has assumed several forms over the years, first appeared on the Indians’ uniforms in 1948. In recent decades various groups across North America have appealed to the team to renounce the logo, to no avail. But over the past year the commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred, has pressured Paul Dolan, Cleveland’s chairman and chief executive, to make a change.

Citing a goal of diversity and inclusion, Manfred said in a statement provided to The New York Times that the Indians organization “ultimately agreed with my position that the logo is no longer appropriate for on-field use in Major League Baseball, and I appreciate Mr. Dolan’s acknowledgment that removing it from the on-field uniform by the start of the 2019 season is the right course.”

That doesn’t exactly sound like a consensus process. Dolan issued a statement saying that he was “ultimately in agreement,” but also protested that the Indians had been “cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the discussion.” The tenor of the releases certainly makes it sound as though Manfred and the MLB office simply got tired of the debate and ordered Dolan to change his mind.

The Wahoo logo has been controversial for years, of course. Remember this shoutout from Bob Costas in 2013, part of the histrionics over the Washington Redskins name? The Indians have resisted calls for dumping it all along, citing team tradition and fan popularity. What’s changing in 2019? Oh yeah:

Nice official event ya got there … shame if anything happened to it, eh?

Not being a fan myself, I have no particular attachment to the logo. It’s certainly legitimate for MLB (a voluntary association run by the owners) to play a role in dealing with such issues, and it’s also legitimate for market pressures to be part of that equation. If the rest of the league finds the logo embarrassing, then why would they want to play an All-Star game in a stadium where it is prominently featured? It’s not as though government attempted to intervene in the matter, as the US Patents and Trademarks Office did with the Redskins. The Supreme Court later overruled the USPTO in Tam, a case involving an Asian-American band called The Slants, which mooted the action against the Redskins.

If the Cleveland Indians think it will end by dumping Wahoo, though, they’re likely to be disappointed. The same protesters who demanded the removal of the Wahoo logo also complained about the team’s name, claiming it was a cultural appropriation from Native Americans:

Every year, groups of Native Americans and their supporters have protested outside the stadium before the home opener in hopes of not only getting the team to abolish Chief Wahoo but to change the Indians’ nickname, which they feel is an offensive depiction of their race. …

The NFL’s Washington Redskins have come under similar fire to change their logo and nickname but so far have resisted. Last year, a Supreme Court ruling in another case cleared the way for the Redskins to preserve the trademark on its logo.

The NFL has taken a lot of heat for on-field political activism over the last two seasons, but give them some credit (or blame) for not forcing Dan Snyder to change the Redskins name.  They certainly haven’t made that kind of pressure as public as Manfred has with Dolan. MLB might be signaling that they’re more concerned about the issue even with the arguably less offensive name in Cleveland. That may be bad news for Cleveland, and also for Atlanta, where the Braves and their “tomahawk chop” have also provoked protests in the past.

Will Cleveland fans make the team pay for surrendering Wahoo? If they keep winning 102 games like they did last season, probably not, or at least not for long. If they cough up the name, that might be a different matter. But unless they rename the team the Spiders, even that would likely have a limited impact. The big question will be this: will Donald Trump make this a national issue by criticizing MLB, Manfred, and Dolan for political correctness? You have to think the NFL might be hoping that Trump will shift focus to baseball for a while.