Chief Wahoo, the smiling symbol of the Cleveland Indians since the 1940s who is beloved by many but deemed to be racist by others, is being replaced as a primary logo, uniform expert Paul Lukas reported Wednesday. Instead, the team will emphasize a block letter "C" they introduced in recent seasons. The Indians aren't eliminating the Chief — the home uniform will continue to feature him on caps and jersey sleeves — but fans will see less of him overall.
The Indians aren't the only team making a logo change for 2014. The Pittsburgh Pirates are "ditching" their eyepatch-wearing Jolly Roger in favor of a gold "P." Yeeeargh — say it ain't so, mateys! Regardless, don't expect Bucs fans to stop raising the Jolly Roger flag at PNC Park after a victory.
As with any other Major League Baseball teams, the Indians and Pirates are trying to maximize the dollars they can make marketing their product while hurting as few feelings as possible.
While the Indians never come out and say they're marginalizing the Chief, they seem to be continuing a trend of de-emphasizing him. They've reduced his visibility at spring training in Arizona, where more Native Americans live. They don't use him at every opportunity to publicize team events or programs anymore. They've also surveyed their fans asking their feelings on the Chief, as if to gain "permission" to make a change.
While it would seem that most of their hardcore supporters also support the Chief — or at least are neutral about him — other factions consider Wahoo to be an overtly racist caricature that demeans Native Americans. By moving to marginalize the Chief, the Indians can have it every possible way: Fans can buy more stuff with the hyped-up block "C" if they like. Fans still will be able to buy Chief Wahoo stuff in case they're afraid it's going out of style or will be taken away. It can even be used as clothing of defiance!
Simultaneously, the Indians can appear to be subtly appeasing those against use of the Chief while also being sensitive to Chief loyalists by keeping items with his kisser stocked in their stores.
It's a sound strategy, even if it's just a stopgap and they have to make a more permanent decision on the Chief someday. Cleveland's situation is probably different from that which faces the NFL's Washington Redskins. At some point in the future, it's going to become too socially unacceptable for the Redskins to keep their nickname. They'll be forced to change. The Indians have more wriggle room because the Chief is just a logo. He can hide.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the Indians removed Chief Wahoo from the road uniform. They replaced him on the primary road caps with the block "C" but kept him on a jersey sleeve. The Stew regrets the error.]
- - - - - - -