The Final Inning

March 23, 2018
MASCOT PROTEST People protest the Chief Wahoo mascot outside an Indians game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
DOUG JAMES—ICON SMI/CORBIS/GETTY IMAGES

For more than 70 years, the face of baseball in Cleveland, Ohio, has been Chief Wahoo. He is the mascot for the Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball team. Wahoo is a cartoon of an American Indian. He has a big nose, feather headdress, and red face. Some fans love Chief Wahoo. But many people consider him offensive.

That’s why the Indians are kicking Wahoo out of the ballgame. Beginning in 2019, the logo will no longer appear on team uniforms or at Cleveland’s Progressive Field.

Strikeout

The Indians held a contest to choose a mascot in 1947. Chief Wahoo was the winning entry. But for years, criticism has been growing. It is part of a larger debate about Native American logos and names used by sports teams. Some teams are sensitive to Native Americans. Others, like the Washington Redskins, have resisted calls for a name change. So far, the Indians have no plans to change their name.

In Cleveland, activists have often protested Chief Wahoo at Indians games. In 2017, more than 14,000 people signed a petition. It asked the team to retire him.

“It’s a caricature that is racist and has no reason to exist in 2018,” says Paul Chaat Smith. He works at the National Museum of the American Indian. Smith says Wahoo is a stereotype. Wahoo encourages people to think of Native Americans as old-time cartoons. Smith sees this as harmful to the Native Americans living in the U.S. today. There are 5.2 million of them.

Fan Favorite

On the other side are fans who love Chief Wahoo. Paul Hoynes is one. He’s a sports reporter at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I don’t associate Wahoo with racism,” he says. “I associate him with baseball.” But Hoynes sees why Wahoo has to go. “If the Indians were holding a contest for a logo today and somebody submitted Chief Wahoo,” he says, “that would never be permitted in this day and age.”

Wahoo won’t go away entirely. Merchandise with the logo will still be available in some places. But many people see Wahoo’s retirement as a big win for their cause. “It’s a really important victory,” Smith says.