The Cleveland Indians baseball team uses for promotional materials the image of the execrable Chief Wahoo that I said should have been removed a long time ago. But on Sunday the ,em>Plain Dealer, a big booster of the local sports teams, came out with an editorial saying it was time for it to go. They pointed out that the team has very slowly reduced its prominence and it was time to take the final step. This was the first time they had taken a stand on this issue, which itself tells you about how sensitive this topic is in this area, and it was clear that they were wading very gingerly into the fray, trying to find a gentle way to give the fans a way to change their minds.
Just as that giant graphic image was retired from the line-up, smaller ones should be, too. That includes Wahoo-adorned promotions at the ballpark and small Wahoo patches worn on some of the players’ hats and sleeves. A demeaning symbol is a demeaning symbol, regardless of degree.
It’s like scoring a game. A booted ball is an error, whether it leads to a three-run rally for the other team or is later negated by a double play.
Many fans don’t see it that way. They view Wahoo through the lens of their youth, when they learned to embrace Wahoo the way they did Bugs Bunny, as loveable and funny, and before they knew anything about racial stereotypes.
That’s why benching Wahoo is so difficult for them. It implies that their affection for Wahoo was somehow impure. It taints their nostalgia. It creates a break from the past. For many, getting rid of Wahoo means giving into excessive political correctness.
It’s why this editorial board has hesitated in the past to take a position.
But I doubt this gentle approach will work. As of a few minutes ago, there were already over 1400 comments to the editorial because this is a hot-button issue. I just skimmed down through the first 30 or so and they were pretty predictable, with fans of the awful image come out of the woodwork exclaiming that there is nothing wrong with it, that it honors American Indians, people should just lighten up, and that they are tired of the majority being pushed around by a “small minority of easily offended people”. There were only a small number applauding the call for getting rid of Wahoo.
Ultimately sports is a big business and as long as the team owners feel that they can make more money by keeping Wahoo than by dumping him, it will stay. If the tide changes however, and they think keeping him is a money loser, they will suddenly discover high-minded reasons to get rid of the caricature.