It's the same ol' controversy, but in this case, the participants are a little different.
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, the newspaper of record in Cleveland, published a strongly worded editorial Friday saying the Cleveland Indians should ditch their Chief Wahoo logo, calling on the team to finally acknowledge it's a "racially insensitive stereotype of Native Americans."
The Washington Redskins of the NFL are the American sports franchise most closely associated with this controversy. In that case, some media outlets have stopped calling the team the "Redskins." Ownership, meanwhile, is unwavering in its support of the name.
The Indians' case is a little different. They've already moved away from Chief Wahoo, a cartoon-ish Indian with a big smile, as their primary logo, opting instead for a big block "C." The team has toned down its usage of Wahoo, but hasn't nixed him altogether. He was on the sleeve of their road jersey last season, for instance.
The Indians have toed the line between progress and history, seemingly trying to avoid the big ol' political-correctness debate that follows the Redskins. But it's obvious that the possibility of change is at least on their mind. They surveyed fans last year.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer, however, was absolute in its denouncement of Chief Wahoo, writing:
The bottom line is that having Wahoo on the roster won't provide the team with a right-handed power hitter, a shutdown closer or a third baseman who can hit. Wahoo contributes nothing to the performance of the Indians on the field, and makes the team seem hopelessly backward in the eyes of the world.
One day, the Indians will say goodbye to Wahoo. It's inevitable. And it's a little unsettling that it hasn't happened by now. Why cling to Wahoo when it so clearly offends? One might wonder whether, if Greater Cleveland were a faster-growing region, if it didn't feel so defensive about its hard-luck professional sports teams, it would have found the collective self-esteem before now to part willingly with Wahoo.
But the Indians shouldn't wait to win a World Series or for the city to hit boom times to discover the well of decency and understanding within itself to dump the Chief. The team should do it now. Take the heat. Deal with the backlash. Move on. It can be done thoughtfully, by simply acknowledging the mixed emotions of all involved.
Then the city and the team can send a message to the world that it gets it. And Indians fans, all of them, can root for the team, unconditionally.
The Plain-Dealer is right about one thing: Chief Wahoo will go away one day. Society is progressing and the Indians are inching away from him. So it's a matter of time. Really, it just comes down to strategy. Rip off the Band-Aid quickly and get stung for a bit? Or slowly peel it off so you don't really notice?
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