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Chief Wahoo is the logo of the Cleveland Indians baseball team. The illustration is a Native American cartoon caricature. The logo has drawn protests from some members of Native American tribes and the NAACP. However, the logo remains popular among fans of the Cleveland Indians.
Although the club had adopted the name "Indians" starting with the 1915 season, there was no acknowledgment of this nickname on their uniforms until 1928. In the years between the team's 1901 formation and the 1927 season, uniforms contained variations on a stylized "C" or the word "Cleveland" (excepting the 1921 season, when the front of the club's uniform shirts read "Worlds [sic] Champions"). According to baseball historians, the 1928 season saw modified club uniforms whose left breast bore a patch depicting the profile of a headdress-wearing American Indian. In 1929, a smaller version of that same patch migrated to the home uniform sleeve, where similar incarnations of the early design remained through 1938. For 1939 the club wore the Baseball Centennial patch on the sleeve. Various other patches were worn for the next few years, none of them featuring Indians.
In 1946, both the home and road shirts featured a City of Cleveland Sesquicentennial patch. In 1947, home and road uniforms began featuring the first incarnation of Chief Wahoo. The new Chief Wahoo logo, a caricature drawn from a three-quarter perspective, supplanted the earlier profile drawings. A redesigned Chief Wahoo caricature appeared on the uniform shirt sleeve starting in 1951. Uniform designs have varied in the years since, but the 1951 Chief Wahoo design has been used in most years since then. Exceptions include the 1972 uniform, which featured no Chief Wahoo logo, and the 1973 through 1978 uniforms, which featured a modified logo in which Chief Wahoo is depicted at bat.
According to polling results published in Sports Illustrated, "Although most Native American activists and tribal leaders consider Indian team names and mascots offensive, neither Native Americans in general nor a cross section of U.S. sports fans agree." However, the article didn't discuss any polling specifically on the Chief Wahoo caricature. According to the article, "There is a near total disconnect between Indian activists and the Native American population on this issue." However, the results of the poll have been criticized by Native American activists due to Sports Illustrated's refusal to provide polling information. Among the questions raised are how "Indians" were found and contacted, if they were concentrated in urban areas or on reservations, if a small number of tribes were overrepresented, and the exact wording and order of the questions. However, in 2004, a poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania essentially confirmed the prior poll's findings about Native American sports team names, showing that 91% of the American Indians surveyed in the 48 states on the mainland USA found the name of Washington Redskins football team acceptable and setting out in detail the exact wording of the questions.
Chief Wahoo remains prominent for the Cleveland Indians, appearing on game-use uniform, caps and merchandise. During the 2007 post-season, the Christian Science Monitor ran an editorial deploring its continued use.
In 1997 the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, calling the use of Chief Wahoo "insulting and racially insensitive marketing," succeeded in pressuring various companies to stop using the logo. As a result of their efforts, Anheuser-Busch stopped using Chief Wahoo in their Ohio beer ads, and Denny's Restaurants banned its Ohio employees from wearing the logo to work.
In 2008, Major League Baseball introduced special caps with each team's cap logo woven into the "Stars and Stripes" that were worn during major American holidays. The Indians cap with Chief Wahoo emblazoned in stars and stripes caused some controversy. As a result, in 2009 MLB redesigned the Indians "Stars and Stripes" cap with a "C" logo replacing Chief Wahoo.
When the Cleveland Indians played in the 1997 World Series, protesters demonstrated against the team's use of the Chief Wahoo mascot. When American Indian activist Vernon Bellecourt burned an effigy of Chief Wahoo, police arrested him and ordered others to leave. Later, the police arrested two other protesters who had moved to another part of the stadium. Officials claimed all three had actively resisted arrest. Bellecourt was charged with criminal endangerment and resisting arrest, while the other two were charged with criminal trespass and aggravated disorderly conduct. Charges against the defendants were later dismissed.
Protests against the use of the Chief Wahoo character greeted the opening of Jacobs Field in 1998. Cleveland police arrested three protesters for burning an effigy of Chief Wahoo, and shortly thereafter arrested two more protesters for burning an effigy of Little Black Sambo. They were booked and jailed for aggravated arson. However, no formal charges were filed after the booking, and the protesters were released the next day. The protesters, led by Bellecourt, later sued the city for violating their free speech rights.
In 2004, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a 5-2 decision that the arrest did not violate the protesters' First Amendment rights. Justice Maureen O'Connor wrote in the majority opinion that "without question, the effigy burnings were constitutionally protected speech," but, citing the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. O'Brien, O'Connor also wrote that “the windy conditions coupled with the spraying of additional accelerant on the already burning effigies created a hazard" and that "the police were obligated to protect the public, including the protesters themselves.”
Protests against the use of the Chief Wahoo mascot have continued since the 1990s. In 2004, ruling on a lawsuit brought by protesters who wished to demonstrate against Chief Wahoo's use, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the sidewalks near Jacobs Field were a public forum and that the owner could not place content-sensitive restrictions on its use.