February 23, 2018

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Wahoo - Making Progress

February 23, 2018

Digital Native Consultants

 

Now that 2018 is in the rear-view-mirror let's pause to remind ourselves of a recent small victory for Indian country. On January 29, 2018 Major League Baseball and the Cleveland Indians announced they would stop using the Chief Wahoo symbol on uniforms or park signs (keep in mind they will still use the symbol in retail settings). Should this branding move be considered progress for Native American cultural awareness? Well considering the long path and various forms of usage of the symbol, I say yes, it should be considered incremental progress. 

 

As many know there's been documented controversy over the use of the Chief Wahoo character and mascot since it's first official use by the Cleveland Indians in 1952. What some may not know is that this logo and related imagery has a long history that started way before the Cleveland team adopted the likeness. 1932, the front page of the Plain Dealer featured a cartoon by Fred George Reinert that used a caricatured Native American character with a definite resemblance to the later Chief Wahoo. This cartoon character underwent a variety of changes over the years, even after the 1952 adoption, but has not been officially removed until now.

 

Progress regarding the use of this logo/likeness is notable  With this progress noted it's important to acknowledge the additional part of the story revolving around the use of the name Indians for a team name. Such use has resulted in over 115 professional organizations representing civil rights, educational, athletic, and scientific experts to publish resolutions or policies that state that any use of Native American symbols or names by non-native sports teams is a harmful form of ethnic stereotyping. Ethnic stereotyping such as this appears to be a very intense topic in modern media; all the more reason this move is worth writing about.

 

The decision to not use the Chief Wahoo logo on signs and uniforms is a positive move in the right direction regarding cultural awareness and respect for Native Americans. There's still more change that needs to happen in the naming and branding space of professional sports teams. Examples such as the NFL's Washington Redskins reminds us of the work yet to be done.  With that said I want to give credit where credit is due. Hats off to you Cleveland for your courageous and mature decision to stop using the egregious logo and imagery on uniforms and park signs.

 

Congratulations on the progress, and thank you.

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