Did Major League Baseball force Chief Wahoo’s demotion?

by Cleveland Frowns on January 16, 2014

Last week, leading sports uniform expert Paul Lukas reported that the Cleveland Indians were changing their “primary logo” from Chief Wahoo to the block-C, but that this would entail no changes to the team’s uniforms.

The Indians organization quickly denied the report, first to CBS Cleveland 92.3 FM’s TJ Zuppe, and later through two different Northeast Ohio Media Group reporters, Mark Naymik and Glenn Reynolds. “Chief Wahoo has not been demoted despite report, say Cleveland Indians,” reads the headline to Naymik’s column at Cleveland.com.

But Lukas stood by his reporting in a piece at ESPN.com, stating that he confirmed it with two additional sources, and explaining that the main effect of the logo’s redesignation will be that “media outlets — including ‘SportsCenter’ and newspapers — would start using the block-C, instead of Wahoo, as their visual shorthand for the team.”

Chris Creamer of Sportslogos.net confirmed Lukas’s report through his own sources, stating that “there’s no ‘maybe’ about this change of designation, it’s a done deal. It’s not going to be announced officially by the team but anyone with access to MLB’s branding guides for 2014 will see exactly what we’re talking about.”

And in addressing the reports of Wahoo’s demotion, the Indians organization did confirm, in its typically mushmouthed way of discussing the logo, that Wahoo has in fact been redesignated in this year’s edition of MLB’s style guide.

“It’s a nature of changing the, maybe the designation that you might see that Major League Baseball uses in their style guide,” said the club’s Director of Communications, Curtis Danburg, who called it “more of a discretionary change,” and “nothing to do with the approach in locally how we use it or anything to read into.”

So despite the headlines, and despite Danburg’s additional statements that “there’s no change to our approach at all,” that “there’s no process to eliminate Chief Wahoo,” and that the whole issue is “largely about ‘paperwork,'” Wahoo has in fact been demoted and is fact no longer the Indians primary logo in a very real way on a national if not local level.

But more interesting than a debate about whether this redesignation constitutes a “demotion” or not is the question of whether the change was forced on the Indians organization by MLB’s front office. When Danburg says, “the fact of the matter is there’s no change to our approach at all,” he’s not ruling out a change to the league’s approach to Chief Wahoo. When he calls it “more of a discretionary change,” he raises the question of just whose discretion was exercised here. It’s safe to assume that Cleveland ownership’s attachments to the symbol wouldn’t be shared by league executives in New York, who were the ones presumably responsible for Wahoo’s conspicuous absence at last summer’s All Star Weekend. There’s every reason to think that the league would want to keep a safe distance from the logo, and would exercise whatever discretion it has to do so. A decision to cut Wahoo from national media publications would be an easy one for the league to make, if not as easy for the Indians. Though if it was the Indians who made the decision, then Danburg’s statement that “there’s no change to [the organization's] approach at all” is a flat untruth.

Anyway, while one might be inclined to applaud the league or the Cleveland organization, whomever is responsible for Wahoo’s demotion, this is all nothing more than just another absurd and cowardly half-measure to add to a growing list of them. As much as MLB’s style guide has now been cleaned up, Wahoo was already a logo that the Indians admittedly can’t make a mascot out of, or animate in any other way; a logo that they can’t really use during spring training, because that’s in Arizona and there are too many actual Native Americans there; also a logo that they can’t put on the July 4th stars and stripes caps; and again, a logo that they can’t take to the All Star Game, or hardly say more than boo about without sounding like complete blubbering fools. Because of course, “primary logo” or not, Wahoo has always been a caricature of one of history’s most marginalized races of people, created at a time when it was widely acceptable in western culture to caricaturize minority races with the specific purpose of marginalizing if not enslaving or murdering them. It’s a direct product of a legacy of white supremacy, that no less an authority than Larry Doby once explicitly compared to “blackface minstrel shows.” It’s legitimately mind-blowing that Wahoo still manages to exist as an official symbol of anything in corporate America today, and it’s completely incredible the way the Dolan family keeps trotting out their communications people to spew pure bullshit about the thing every time someone suggests that it might or should finally be going away.

As for reasons why the Indians haven’t just gotten rid of the damn thing already, the easiest inferences are less mind-blowing than depressing. In explaining that “there [is] no immediate need or thoughts to change [the organization's] approach” to Wahoo, Danburg did allow the caveat that “it’s certainly a hot issue, especially with what’s going on in D.C. with the Redskins and [the organization is] certainly monitoring that.” But the only thing that the Indians could possibly be “monitoring” here is how long they can get away with maintaining their position of cowardice before finally having to legitimately address the problem (or “rip off the band aid,” as Lukas puts it). Even giving the Dolans the benefit of the doubt by assuming that they’re really not so attached to the idea of the white man’s divine right to make baseball logos out of genocide victims, it’s apparent that they’re at least afraid of offending their paying customers who are. As much as anything else, this fear of offending Wahoo’s fans says that the Dolans don’t believe that they can attract and maintain a fanbase in a legitimate way, like by consistently winning baseball games. Given the Indians’ position at the bottom end of MLB’s tilted economic playing field, the club’s ownership would be naturally more inclined than the average to give in to this kind of fear.

So they do, and MLB mostly just looks the other way, with one or both of the organizations sweeping the logo under the rug whenever they think they can get away with it. But “primary logo” or not, by whomever’s decision, for whatever reason, the fact that Wahoo still appears as an official symbol of anything related to Major League Baseball or Cleveland, Ohio is still an abomination. And so is an organization called the Cleveland Indians that continues to cling to this thing that belongs nowhere but in museums or the garbage in 2014.

  • Eric

    Recently I saw a Facebook post from a conservative friend of mine lambasting the Indian’s organization for “capitulating to political correctness” by electing to use the Block-C. I agree with you that even this step is a half measure. It amazes me that people can be so callous about something like this. Imagine what will happen once they finally rip off the band-aid.

  • oxr

    This is an interesting development. It makes it much more difficult for the organization to cast its extreme unwillingness to countenance the logo’s removal as mere prudence. God knows, as an institution it’s hard to be more resistant to change than MLB.

    I quite like the block C; it is certainly preferable to some sort of “CI”-based logo, which would bring its own attendant problems with the optics.

  • http://about.me/olssox Olssox

    What bothers me the most about this whole Wahoo issue is that leading people will not admit the offensiveness of it all. I realize that half of them actually realize this but can’t admit it because they THINK it would hurt the brand. They are going to look incredibly stupid in 50 years.

  • Chris Mc

    I’m curious why MLB.com has the Block “C” on their main page under the “teams” link (on the right), but on the store page (left) they elected to stick with Chief Wahoo.

    At any rate, the Dolan’s pussyfooting around this matter would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic. With a few beers and a few shots of whiskey, I was able to get my dad and my uncle (both diehard Wahoo supporters) to relent that Wahoo “should probably go away”.

    I’m having a hard time typing this sentence, but even with the Dolan’s being moral invertebrates they are still the owners that I hate the least in this town.

    • http://about.me/olssox Olssox

      They’ve also used the C for a few years in their At Bat-app. It’s a lot more relaxing for the eye!

  • bupalos

    >>>the white man’s divine right to make baseball logos out of genocide victims>>>

    Nicely done as always on this.

    The continuing (and ultimately self-defeating) cowardice of the front office on this is about to meet it’s match I think. Scrubbing the national scene will effectively create a no-see zone in 95% of the country, which will help re-sensitize folks (in a reverse frog-boiling kind of way). When Chief Whitepriviledge is plastered everywhere like background wallpaper it fades to a design. When he pops up just every now and again, it’s easier for folks to notice and see it for what it is — the most racist thing they’ve seen since….well, the last time they saw it.

    >>>what’s going on in D.C. with the Redskins and [the organization is] certainly monitoring that.”>>>

    Monitoring it for….???? You just get these guys talking and they self-destruct. It’s no wonder they try to stay in the mole-hole. They have to be able to hear how this sounds.

    • Viper

      I wouldn’t want to be the one beaten by Dan Snyder in a race for who is the better humanitarian.

  • Unaffected Indian

    Who cares? Certainly practically nobody.

    • McGraw

      The latest poll I saw on Cleveland.com showed that about 25% thought Wahoo should be removed. A little over 50% thought it should stay. A very small percentage fell under the “who cares?” category, so there goes that.

  • Unaffected Indian

    How come when my friend Mr. James O’neal was aghast at the horrifying way the Notre Dame logo looks down at the Irish, when not many a people have been through what the Irish have over the years mind you ….why is it that when Mr. O’neal and scores of his Irish brethren take offense to the ugly Notre Dame logo, which looks down upon the Irish people, and somehow minimizes all the suffering they have been through. There’s at least 15 Irish men and women that I know who are offended by this, so something MUST BE DONE! Be sure to rail on about it for the next 3 years when you have nothing else to write on your blog. If not, you must hate the Irish.

    • Chris Mc

      As someone of Irish descent, I’m more offended by this comment than I am by the Notre Dame mascot.

    • Chris Mc

      Not sure what compelled you to change your name from “oxr” to “Unaffected Indian” on this comment but not the other one, but I’m sure you have a good reason.

      • oxr

        Uh, what? For the record, Chris, I didn’t make either of the two (thus far) “Unaffected Indian” posts, but I did make the one above in my name. Frowns can verify this easily by looking at the email address I entered but – for Christ’s sake – I hope the comments don’t read similarly enough that that’s necessary.

    • Peter Markos

      Malakies

  • Collin

    Understand that Chief Wahoo is racist. Whether or not it is completely removed as a logo, are you suggesting they remove “Indians” as their name as well? That would certainly be a much bigger issue, and one that I would not support. I understand the history of the Native Americans in our past, but this team is, and will always be the Indians to me. Thoughts?

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      Read about Christopher Columbus, read about the Indian Wars that had hardly finished being fought when the Cleveland team was named “Indians,” and read the Cleveland newspaper articles (and cartoons) by which the change was announced. Why would you want any part of that tradition? Why is your personal attachment to the Indians name so important to you? The Spiders would be a damn excellent name for Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team, among any of a number of others.

      • Archie Stanton

        I’m all for the Spiders nickname. It would be unique and awesome with endless marketing possibilities.

  • Bryan

    Good stuff here, Frowns.

  • Renate Jakupca

    ’nuff said.

  • BigDigg

    It’s an inevitability that the team will eventually relent and change both the logo and team name. The only question here is whether they look like dithering idiots dragged into the 21st century when doing so. Always best in the long-term to be on the right side of history…

  • Peter Markos

    Frowns, I cant imagine anyone non-renewing season tickets over dumping Wahoo. Just like anything else in this media age, the pouting and the noise will last 4 days of the news cycle and we will move on. I just don’t understand what the Dolans are holding on to. I don’t see anything in the ballpark experience that will be lost.

    • BigDigg

      The irony here is the longer they drag this out the bigger the issue will become. There’s a certain segment of the public that is prone to clinging to a nostalgic view of the world and less sensitive to certain progressive issues. By extending this charade it only allows them to dig in their heels further.

    • dostonj

      “can’t imagine anyone non-renewing season tickets over dumping Wahoo.” I can…those people are called bigots, and there are some out there, unfortunately. But by and large, I don’t see this as having a significant impact on the team’s bottom line.

  • Peter Markos

    One more thought. Do you say retard in front of parents of special needs children? Do you call a gay person a fag? If you are that type of a- hole, go buy a Wahoo cap.

  • actovegin1armstrong

    I love you Frownie, glad to see you are still fighting the good fight!

  • Brian Sipe

    I don’t think it is a stretch to say we have the worst ownership in professional sports for our 3 teams. Gilbert is just a flat out jerk. Dolan’s are way over their head and have been from day 1. Not even sure what to think about Jimmy Haslam yet as I think he deserves more than 1 year year, but……

  • McGraw

    Good work, Frowns. For a while I’ve feeling that Wahoo’s demise will have to come through pressure, or possibly an ultimatum, from the league. Obviously, the people who have been demonstrating outside the stadium for, what?, 40 years are persona non grata to the organization. I also think they’re missing out on a golden opportunity to rebrand and bring everyone into the fold. I’ll buy merchandise when they finally come around. Change the name and let’s move on.

  • beeej

    What about the Cleveland Buddists?

  • beeej
    • beeej

      and the origin story of the above symbol is actually positive as opposed to the Chief’s. If we just explain it, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with it.

      via Korean Temple.net:
      ‘Manja’ (만, Man is “卍” and 만자, Manja literally means “letter Man”)
      is also called Srivatsalksana in Sanskrit. It is also written as “Gilsanghaewun,
      길상해운” and ”Gilsanghwiseon, 길상희선”, symbolizing auspiciousness and
      good fortune. It is one of ‘Samsipisang’ (삼십이상, the thirty-two (32) marks
      of excellence of the Buddha) and is said to exist on his hands, feet, hair and
      waist. There are four Sanskrit words for it, but ‘Srivatsa’ is the most common
      and means the shape of sea clouds in which hair is curled, overlapped and intermingled.
      Therefore, Man means the place where all good fortune and luck meet.

      This symbol has been used all over the world since ancient times and there
      are several stories about its origin. In Korea, it is generally used as a sign
      or a symbol denoting Buddhist sites or temples. There are two types; one with
      its arms pointng to the right and the other with arms pointing to the left.
      However, if you look at it in three dimensions, it looks like 卍 from the front
      but like a reversed Manja, with its arms pointing to the right, from the back.
      Reversed Manja was used a lot in ancient carvings in India, but China, Korea
      and Japan make no distinction.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    My NFL Conference Championship picks are here http://t.co/bC6gGrj2ZD in case anyone is interested.

    Also, this is some might-y fine reporting from MKC. http://www.cleveland.com/browns/index.ssf/2014/01/cleveland_browns_mike_pettine.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

  • Jeff Rich

    @ClevelandFrowns:disqus, would you consider this progress or just another black eye for the organization?

    I don’t necessarily wave the flag on this issue, as you and many of your readers/colleagues do, but I find this to be (A.) a half-measure on the part of Major League Baseball, even if it is a bold statement and (B.) a sad state of affairs from everyone in position to do what’s right.

    I know that it would be a hard sell at this point for Dolan, Shapiro, and anyone on down the food chain at Ontario and Carnegie to convince anyone that future moves are anything in the category of proactive, but the more changes appear to be forced, the more shame falls on not only the baseball entity, but the region in general for having their name attached. With the ridiculous PR nightmare this has become, at the absolute fault of some moronic statement about their reluctance to change or even address the issue with anything but a flat no, any action from this point forward will be deemed reactive or even punitive.

    And, by the official changes only existing in MLB’s branding of its Cleveland product, are they trying to force the issue without completely forcing the issue? I haven’t been a fan of what people have referred to as “phasing out” Chief Wahoo. If MLB or the Indians (laugh) concur that its use is wrong, just dump the damn logo already. In fact, save yourself the fight in the future, and drop the “Indians” name, because it’s a trip down the same street; is it not?

    It’s a shame the region’s most successful chapter in pro sports has become this mockery of function.

  • Woeismemyfeewingsrhurt

    I’m a tall atheist and offended by Saints and Giants. Change their names America. Us easily offended pussies own you now.

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