By Steve Samek
The Cleveland Indians had a great year making it to the World Series. Along with losing the World Series, they could and should lose something else: the Chief Wahoo logo.
Chief Wahoo was born in 1947 at the suggestion of the Indians’ owner Bill Veeck. Veeck was known for outrageous antics, promotions and stunts in promotion of his teams. The Indians went on to win the title in 1948, which is their only series win in franchise history.
The team altered the logo from a white-skinned Indian to a red-skinned Indian with a smaller nose in 1951. Native American groups protested its use, but the logo remained.
In 2014, the Indians made a move to the red block C logo you see today. The chief Wahoo logo was prominent in Indians spring training uniforms and stadium until 2009. This was when Cleveland moved from Florida to Arizona. Arizona has a 5.3 percent population of Native Americans, while Florida has a 0.5 percent native population.
This was most likely a move toward being politically correct, but didn’t entirely remove the logo. Today you can still buy merchandise with the Chief Wahoo logo.
Chief Wahoo also played a prominent role in the movie Major League with the team sporting the Wahoo caps. Chief Wahoo was the face of Cleveland like it, or not. That doesn’t mean it needs to stay.
With Cleveland making the ALDS ,the logo faced a challenge in Toronto. The Blue Jays wanted to ban the logo from games played in Canada citing it violated discrimination laws in Canada.
The lawsuit went nowhere and the Indians went on to beat the Blue Jays and advance to the World Series. The Indians continued to rock the logo for the rest of the playoffs.
To me, the logo reminds me of the old Atlanta Braves logo. Atlanta used to have a native for a logo in the form of chief Noc-A-Homa.
While the logo was a carryover from the Boston and Milwaukee days giving it a team history, the Braves switched logos in 1990 to the tomahawk. Though, interestingly, the Braves never donned the chief on a cap, just the signature A. The Braves are still a well-known brand without the previous logo, and Cleveland can take note and do the same. If it doesn’t want to use the C, maybe go with an I for Indians.
A name change is also possible. Cleveland could return to the Naps, Spiders, or come up with something new. Each name would have some historical context without the possible offensive nature.
Having a new logo will give you merchandising opportunities. It will also give Cleveland the chance to start fresh with a positive brand image, not one that polarizes and causes protest. Keeping the name without the logo works too. Many teams are called Braves, or native American names without insulting logos. The fact that Chief Wahoo is a character is what the problem is. If the logo was talked about and approved by local native tribes,, which some teams do, then it’s ok.
The only problem with removing the logo would be the history and the revenue. The chief has been around for years and is the face of Cleveland. It is also associated with the franchise’s only championship. The logo is noticeable, and people buy it on shirts and hats, making the chief a significant part of Cleveland lore.
Another interesting point is that Cleveland’s on-field mascot isn’t an Indian. I’m not quite sure what it is, to be honest. Its name is Slider, and other than the chief logo on its jersey, it has no resemblance to the Indians.
Burn the logo and all the bad memories that go with it and start fresh. Maybe next year, the Indians can end its World Series drought, which dates back to 1948. Time for Cleveland to move on from Chief Wahoo.