On Chief Wahoo

If you’ve been following baseball news at all recently, you will have heard that the Cleveland Indians have decided to remove the Chief Wahoo logo from the official team uniforms as of the 2019 baseball season.  The logo has been the subject of controversy for literally decades (because it’s racist af) and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has been talking about convincing the team to get rid of it since he assumed office.  Indians ownership denies that there was any sort of quid pro quo involving trading the logo for the 2019 All-Star Game, and that this is just part of ongoing discussions with Manfred.

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An example of the reasoned discourse in the marketplace of ideas on Cleveland.com’s Facebook page.

Long story short: it’s gone.  Not entirely — the team store at the stadium will still have Wahoo merchandise — but largely.  It won’t be on television anymore.  It won’t be online at official MLB merch stores anymore.  If you want an official player jersey, you won’t be able to get one with Chief Wahoo on it.

And, of course, Cleveland fans reacted with their usual friendly acceptance of all things right and good.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

No, instead, a bunch of people are flipping out and calling everyone who maybe wasn’t cool with a Red Sambo logo (1) “snowflakes” and “triggered” much as you’d expect white people to do when you take away their toys. So let’s take a look at some of these arguments.

1.  I’m Native American and I Don’t Find It Offensive.

First of all, most of the people who say this are full of shit.  This is the “Cherokee Princess” form of Native American used by white people to avoid engaging with their racist bullshit.

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Most “Native Americans” on the Cleveland.com Facebook page, probably.

However, I’m sure there are a number of actual Native Americans who actually don’t find Chief Wahoo offensive.  That happens.  Maybe they don’t give a fuck.  Maybe they have more important things to do with their days.  Maybe they like Chief Wahoo in the way that some kids like when you yell at them, because at least that means you’re paying attention.  Maybe they just unironically like the goofy cartoon.  Good for them.

But their opinions don’t matter, because racism is racism and has negative impacts regardless of whether it personally offends one member of the group or not.

I’m not a racial minority, so let me make an analogy to something that I can speak to with personal experience: sexism. There are plenty of women who think that it’s okay that women are harassed all the time, on the street, at work, in stores.  They think “that’s just what men do” and “women are asking for it” and “it’s not a big deal.”  These women are not personally “offended”(2) by catcalls or ass grabs or men whipping out their dicks on the subway.  But the cumulative effect of this tolerance of harassment or assault on all women is negative.  It means we all have to work harder to navigate the streets safely, and get promotions at jobs, and at any moment our days can be derailed by some dude who “just can’t help” but show me his penis at the Home Goods.  It’s bullshit.

Even if a Native American person tells me that he or she isn’t personally bothered by Chief Wahoo, there are plenty of Native American people who are.  And people (not just Native Americans) are harmed by Chief Wahoo, whether they feel it or not, just like women are harmed by a culture of harassment whether they feel it or not.  The trappings of racism have a negative impact on the culture at large.

2. Fuck Your Feelings.

So many of the comments about the removal of Chief Wahoo involve the criticism of the “feelings” of the “PC warriors” who were “triggered” by Chief Wahoo.  This is typical of reactionaries who live to call people names and suggest that anyone who opposes them is a delicate little snowflake who can’t exist in the world.

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But this characterization is really just projection and fear manifesting as name calling.  Many people against the logo aren’t “offended” by it or “triggered” by it at all.  It’s just gross.  It’s a racist old relic of a time gone by, and it needs to go.  That’s all.  If anyone is triggered, judging by the comments on Cleveland.com’s Facebook page, it’s the defenders of the logo.  I’ve never seen so many abuses of the exclamation point.(3)

3.  It’s Just a Cartoon.

This is my most favorite of all of the arguments in favor of keeping Chief Wahoo, because it literally makes no sense.  If Wahoo is “just a cartoon” then what’s the problem with getting rid of it?  If it’s not important, let’s just change it, right?  Since no one is offended by it, then no one should care if we change the logo altogether.  It’s just a cartoon!  It means nothing!  Honestly, the internet makes me sad for the state of the American education system.(4)

4.  The Future of Baseball Must Be Diverse.  Baseball is already the oldest and whitest and most male of the three major sports in the U.S.  Commissioner Manfred, for all his flaws (5) has seen the demographic writing on the wall and knows that if he doesn’t expand baseball’s audience beyond old white guys, there’s not going to be much of a future left for the sport.  Of course, Native Americans aren’t exactly a huge potential audience in northeastern Ohio (thanks, forced resettlement!), but the kind of racist caricature that Wahoo is certainly says to other minorities (especially racial and ethnic minorities) “fuck you.  We don’t want you here.”  When your biggest potential future audiences are racial minorities, you start thinking about removing the most obvious barriers to engagement.(6) Demographically, this was always going to happen; it was only a question of when.  I’m glad it’s now.


(1) TM, my friend S. who literally laughed out loud when she first saw the logo and said “are you fucking kidding me?!”  I wish we were, S.

(2) We’ll get back to the use of this term in a minute.

(3) Okay, this is a lie.  I see this level of punctuation abuse every time someone tries to defend misogyny or racism or any other gross thing on the internet.  Why so many exclamation points and ellipses, racists?

(4) No shade on teachers, though.  I know you’re doing your best.

(5) Pace of play?  PACE OF PLAY?  Don’t get me started.

(6) Fun fact I learned while reading about this: the Indians don’t use Chief Wahoo in Arizona during Spring Training out of respect for the heavy Native American population there.”  (emphasis mine)  So, it’s okay to use it in Ohio because we killed or moved all the Native Americans so there’s no one to be pissed off.  Cool.  Cool cool cool.


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