Chief Wahoo, RIP.
The Cleveland Indians announced last week that their long-maligned mascot will be sent to that happy hunting ground for mascots in the sky in 2019. Wahoo has been the object of numerous protests by Native American groups over the years, in part because he was such a dopey-looking guy.
He will join the Miami Redskins, the St. John Redmen, the St. Bonaventure Brown Indians, the Stanford Indians and others on the shelf of discarded mascots.
I know that some people are really attached to Chief Wahoo. I’m a Reds fan, so I haven’t had to worry about mascot controversy, unless you think “Reds” is some kind of code word for communists. But I have to say it really was time for Chief Wahoo to go. He was offensive to a large number of the people he was supposed to represent, so why hold onto him?
Besides, changing mascots is a fabulous opportunity for raking in extra cash. The Indians are going to keep Wahoo around for one more year so they can sell lots of stuff, then they’ll get another boost in 2019 when they start selling things picturing the new mascot.
The Washington Redskins should figure this out. Unless you’re talking about a type of potato, “Redskin” really is a pejorative term. In a society that is attempting (and often failing) to become color blind when it comes to race, having popular sports teams with that kind of name really is pretty stupid. Here’s a news flash for Washington: change your name and it won’t affect your attendance one bit. Win a few games and it won’t matter what you call yourself. And think of all those new jerseys you could sell!
I have a good friend who is an old Miami University (never University of Miami, I made that mistake once and paid for it) Redskin kind of guy. He is still upset they changed the name way back in 1997. I guess some things are hard to let go. Miami changed its name to the RedHawks (no, I don’t understand the capital H, either) after the Miami Tribe in Oklahoma passed a resolution asking for a change. There is still debate today over who pressured whom to do what, but the bottom line is the school and the Miami tribe still maintain close contact and have what is considered to be a model relationship between a university and a namesake tribe. Besides, current students are fine with the new mascot. As time goes on, everyone realizes that mascots are supposed to be a unifying idea and if you have one that doesn’t work, you really just ought to get rid of it.
We haven’t heard the end of the Cleveland Indians debate because Native American activists want the team not just to dump the Chief, but to change its name, too. Watching white people dress up in war paint and do silly dances makes them cringe.
It’s unclear how far Cleveland is going to go: will the nickname be changed? The first Cleveland professional team was the Spiders, who collapsed after an infamous 1899 season when they went 20-134, the worst record in Major League history. They were followed by the Bluebirds, who then became the Blues, who then became the Naps (named after star player Napoleon Lajoie). When Lajoie left town in 1915, they became the Indians. Chief Wahoo showed up as an official mascot in the 1940s. So it’s not like the Indians haven’t been someone else before (although I would suggest avoiding being called the Spiders again considering how that turned out).
It’s not like other Cleveland teams have sensible names. What’s a Brown? And what does Cleveland have to do with the Cavaliers, a bunch of English aristocrats from the 17th century who dressed funny and ended up in Virginia?
The Indians could become something to do with Lake Erie: you could name them after a fish (the Walleyes) or the Captains or the Algal Blooms. Or you could go with the Rock ‘n’ Rollers or go with the latest trend in nicknames and just call the team the Light (the city is sometimes called “The City of Light.” Don’t ask me why.) You can just make something up that has no relationship to Cleveland, which pretty much is the case for most professional sports teams. You can have contests and new mascots and new uniforms and make a bundle of money.
Sure, some people will complain but they’ll get over it. Or they won’t get over it and someone else will buy their tickets. And consider this: the Indians haven’t won a World Series since Chief Wahoo showed up, so it might finally break the curse.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.