In so many ways, life in the United States under the current administration feels like an ugly wormhole back to a time of open and belligerent racism. So it’s heartening that this week Major League Baseball announced a decision by the Cleveland Indians to remove the controversial Chief Wahoo logo from the team’s uniforms in the 2019 season — a move that might be considered literally the least the team could do after decades of protests by Native American activists. Cleveland’s baseball team and its fans have proudly sported gear featuring the grinning, red-skinned cartoon “Indian” since 1947 — a time when annoying notions of political correctness did not stop nationally-licensed sports franchises from reducing a diverse range of First Nation peoples and the original occupants of our lands to a harmful stereotype.
As with most racist propaganda, this move is long overdue. The Cleveland Indians now join teams like the Atlanta Braves and the Kansas City Chiefs that have retired logos that tokenize actual, vibrant cultures that were all but extinguished by the ravages of colonialism in the Americas, including some that have managed to maintain a tenuous foothold and connection to their history, despite basically unrelenting efforts on the part of the dominant culture to crush them. There is speculation that the Cleveland Indians made this move in anticipation of their incipient turn as hosts of the 2019 MLB All-Star Game, but the team denies any connection between these events. The team logo was actually officially changed to a “Block C” in 2014, but Chief Wahoo remained on the team uniforms and caps, as well as on merchandise. Those days are now numbered.
But don’t worry, racists! Though the team has agreed with MLB that the logo is “no longer appropriate for on-field use,” and will see it accordingly removed from all uniforms and stadium imagery, gear with this gross caricature will still be available for purchase in the form of limited merchandise on sale in northeast Ohio and Goodyear, Arizona, where the team spends the spring training season — perfect for sports fans who like to cling to “tradition” as a hall pass on thinking of all people as due the same basic human dignities. Listen, I’m about the biggest fan of the movie Major League as you’ll ever meet, but I’m more than willing to trade that heartwarming, racism-fraught tale (don’t get me started on the character of Pedro Cerrano, who derived his power from voodoo-style worship of a spiritual entity named Jobu) for even these smallest of baby steps toward the elimination of overtly racist propaganda from mainstream society.
Just when racism in the US was enjoying a cultural renaissance, right up to (and down from) the Oval Office, it must be terrible to experience this attack on the freedom to not think about people as people! At least dejected Indians fans can still become fans of football in Washington, DC, where the home team insistently clings to not only a reductionist logo, but an outright racial slur as its name.