Baseball’s Chief Wahoo Is Out on Strike Four (Sort Of)

Baseball’s Chief Wahoo Is Out on Strike Four (Sort Of)

Under pressure from Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians announced this week that beginning in 2019, they’ll retire the Chief Wahoo mascot—the cartoonish, red-faced figure that’s meant to depict a Native American chief—but only from on-field team uniforms.

“We have consistently maintained that we are cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the discussion,” said Paul Dolan, the owner of the team. And in fact, they are trying to please “both sides” by retiring Wahoo on the field, but not from merchandise sold by the Indians organization, allowing it to keep profiting from the logo.

Opponents argue that these depictions “honor” Native Americans, but studies have shown that stereotype-based mascots and related imagery in sports have real, damaging psychological and social consequences for Native Americans—and they especially impact the development and self-esteem of Native youth.

In a statement, MLB, which will no longer be selling Wahoo apparel in its official shop, said the mascot “was no longer appropriate.” Was it ever? Native Americans have been calling for the removal of Wahoo for decades, most recently with the #NotYourMascot campaign. And while this move is a step in the right direction, activists were quick to point out that the team name itself needs changing, too. (There’s a movement in Cleveland to change the name to the Spiders, the name of the city’s baseball team in the late 1800s.)

There’s a certain football team that I’ll only call “the Washington team” that might want to revisit its branding next.