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Chief Wahoo is the logo of the Cleveland Indians, a Major League Baseball team. The logo is a cartoon caricature of a Native American face. It has drawn criticism from some sportswriters, religious groups, and Native Americans, but remains popular among fans of the Cleveland Indians. The team considered replacing the logo in 1993, but it was ultimately retained. Although Chief Wahoo is most properly described as a logo, he is sometimes called a mascot.
In 1947, Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck hired the J.F. Novak Company, designers of the patches worn by Clevelands police and firefighters, to create a new logo for his team. 17-year-old draftsman Walter Goldbach, an employee of the Novak Company, was asked to perform the job. Tasked with creating a mascot that "would convey a spirit of pure joy and unbridled enthusiasm", he created a smiling Indian face with yellow skin and a prominent nose. Goldbach has said that he had difficulty "figuring out how to make an Indian look like a cartoon", and that he was probably influenced by the cartoon style that was popular at the time.
Sportswriters would eventually take to calling the unnamed character "Chief Wahoo". Goldbach has said that the logo's moniker is inaccurate. Quoting a child he met while talking at a school, Goldbach explained in a 2008 interview, "He’s not a chief, he’s a brave. He only has one feather. Chiefs have full headdresses.”
In 1951, the mascot was redesigned with a smaller nose and red skin instead of yellow skin. This logo has remained in use ever since, with only minor changes to the design. In the 1950s, the logo had black outlines and red skin; today the logo has blue lines and red skin. After its introduction, the face of the 1951 logo was incorporated into other, full-body depictions of the character.
Ohio sportswriter Terry Pluto has described comics of Chief Wahoo that would run on the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in the 1950s, with the character's depiction signifying the outcome of yesterday's game. Wins were illustrated by Chief Wahoo holding a lantern in one hand and extending the index finger on his other. Losses were illustrated by a "battered" Chief Wahoo, complete with black eye, missing teeth, and crumpled feathers.
By 1973, when Cleveland businessman Nick Mileti bought the Indians, the team had introduced additional depictions of Chief Wahoo, some of which showed the character at bat. Mileti hired a designer named Leonard Benner to modify an existing at-bat design for use as a logo. Several changes were made: Wahoo's nose was made smaller, his body thinner, and he was now drawn as a right-handed batter instead of left-handed. Overall, however, the design of Chief Wahoo remained largely similar to the previous version. These modifications, however, heralded other changes to the team's use of Indian-themed imagery, such as the removal of a teepee from the outfield area. The 1973 logo is no longer used by the team.
When the Cleveland Indians installed a new computer-programmed scoreboard in 1977, newspaper articles described how it could display animated depictions of Chief Wahoo yelling "Charge!" At 137-by-54 feet with an 86-by-29-foot lighted screen, the scoreboard was described as the largest "single unit board" in the country. Animation was provided by Hilda Terry, creator of the comic strip Teena. Technical difficulties blamed on weather conditions and pollutants from Lake Erie initially prevented the scoreboard from working properly, but by the 1978 season homeruns were celebrated with fireworks and an animation of Chief Wahoo dancing. The complete package of commissioned animations included an arrow skewering two players to signify a double-play.
During his tenure as Indians President, Peter Bavasi asked players how the team's uniforms should look. Bavasi has described Joe Carter and Pat Tabler suggesting that Chief Wahoo be added to the hats, with Tabler predicting that it would "sell like crazy". Bavasi recalls expressing concern that it would offend Native American groups, but that player Bert Blyleven reassured him, "Nah, it shouldn't. Really looks like [manager] Phil Seghi." Blyleven made a similar remark to Sports Illustrated, and the magazine described the resemblance as "uncanny". Tabler's prediction was ultimately borne out, with hat sales increasing significantly after the reintroduction of Chief Wahoo. The revised hat design has been described as a change "in keeping with Major League Baseball's trend toward 'old-style' simulacra."
Around the time Bavasi added Chief Wahoo to the Indians hats in 1986, he also banned "derogatory" banners at the stadium. The elimination of references to Cleveland on the uniforms, including replacing the old style hats with Chief Wahoo, led to speculation that the team might be moved to another city.
In 1994, the Indians moved from the Cleveland Municipal Stadium to Jacobs Field (later renamed Progressive Field). The team considered dropping the logo around this time, but it was ultimately retained. Several years later, the Associated Press reported that the Chief Wahoo debate had not hurt the team's souvenir sales, which at the time were better than those of any other team in the league.
From 1962 through 1994, a 28-foot-tall, neon-lit sign of Chief Wahoo at bat stood above Gate D of Cleveland Municipal Stadium. When the stadium was demolished, the neon sign was donated to the Western Reserve Historical Society. Working with the original blueprints, and the help of $50,000 in donations, the historical society refurbished the sign and it is displayed today in the group's museum. Anonymous donors have since provided funds to support maintenance work that allows the sign to remain lit.
According to a senior vice president and historian at the Western Reserve Historical Society, the acquisition of a 28-foot-tall neon Chief Wahoo sign was debated for several reasons. Among them was the belief that it was "hugely negative for a portion of the population". Ultimately, the historical society decided that "history is history. This sign is a point in a major American issue, which is racial caricature. Some people have a problem with it, some people don’t. It’s important because it not only represents the rich history of baseball in Cleveland, it gets into a really deep issue in American history.” The sign is displayed with written materials that show several points of view; these include "The Legacy of Racism Continues", "Chief Wahoo: Brief History of a Civic Icon", and "Enthusiasm! That's Chief Wahoo!"
For many years, the USS Cleveland flew a battle flag featuring the Chief Wahoo logo. The time and circumstances under which the flag were first flown are not known, but the flag was retired in 2006 and presented to former Indians pitcher and World War II US Navy veteran Bob Feller. The flag had previously flown over center field at Cleveland Stadium.
In 2009, the Cleveland Indians moved their spring training operations from Winter Haven, Florida to Goodyear, Arizona. During the years the Indians trained in Florida, Chief Wahoo was displayed on a municipal water tower there. The Chief Wahoo mural had been touched up at least once in 1993, but because of the team's impending move the town did not bother to repaint the logo when it eventually faded. Due of the expense of repainting the water tower, the logo remained there for several years after the Indians last trained in Florida. It was not until 2012 that Chief Wahoo was finally replaced with a logo for Polk State College.
Chief Wahoo creator Walter Goldbach and his wife spent 15 winters living in Winter Haven, Florida. During the spring training season, he would work with the team when they conducted tours. Goldbach is now retired from his career as an artist, and medical issues prevent him from drawing today. In spite of his contribution to the team, he must pay for his own tickets to Indians games.
Sportswriters have periodically alleged that the Cleveland Indians are gradually phasing out the logo. A sportswriter for the New York Times suggested this in 2007, noting that Chief Wahoo enjoyed a much-diminished presence in Cleveland's home stadium. Sportswriter Craig Calcaterra wrote about his suspicions of a phase-out when he observed that the team used an alternate logo on their scoreboard, and the Journal News of New York has alleged the team is "so embarrassed by their grinning Indian logo that they've all but banished it from Jacobs Field". Changes to the batting helmets in 2013 led to renewed speculation of a phase-out. This continued for 2014, when the Indians decided to officially re-designate their block "C" logo as their primary team logo and demote Chief Wahoo to secondary status, although the Pittsburgh Pirates made a similar move the same year with their gold "P" cap logo becoming their primary logo and demoting their pirate logo to secondary status and the Washington Nationals made their curly "W" cap logo their primary logo in 2011.
Sportswriters have speculated that a slow phase-out allows the team to avoid a negative short-term reaction. However, Indians president Mark Shapiro and other team spokespeople have said there are no plans for a phase-out.
One early piece of Chief Wahoo merchandise depicts a squatting Native American figure holding a stone tool in one hand a scalp in the other.
On the 100th anniversary of the Cleveland Indians, the team gave away blankets that depicted the various incarnations of Chief Wahoo. In 2011, the team gave away free T-shirts with a picture of a heart, a peace sign, and Chief Wahoo. The West Side Leader of Akron, Ohio declared this design "a lot better than the previous freebie shirt, which featured representations of three racing hot dogs".
In 2005, the team partnered with a candy maker to produce a Chief Wahoo chocolate bar. The name "Wahoo Women" has been used for a ladies night out promotion, and in 2013 the team is running a "Wahoo Wednesdays" promotion with Domino's Pizza.
When Major League Baseball released a line of hats fashioned to resemble team mascots, a writer for Yahoo! Sports observed that the league had "wisely passed over fashioning Chief Wahoo into a polyester conversation piece". Although Chief Wahoo is the logo for the Cleveland Indians, the official team mascot is a character named Slider. Major League Baseball does in fact sell a hat shaped to resemble Slider, who himself wears a Chief Wahoo hat.
A 1999 editorial reported annual revenue of $1.5 million from sales of licensed merchandise, and $15 million from sales at official team shops. An interview subject in a 2006 documentary on Chief Wahoo estimated that the logo brings in over $20 million per year.
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. Sportswriter Patrick Hruby, writing for ESPN, described an early photograph featuring these uniforms as "a far cry from Chief Wahoo and other grinning caricatures".
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, the last year before Chief Wahoo's introduction, 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. Chief Wahoo was featured on Cleveland hats from 1951 through 1958, and returned to Cleveland's hats in 1986. The 1986 change followed an increase in the size of the logo on uniforms sleeves in 1983. As of 2013, Chief Wahoo was featured on every variation of the team's uniforms.
In recent years, the Indians have also introduced alternative logos: A block-letter "C," a script-letter "I," and the word "Indians" written in script. In 2014, the organization officially changed the primary logo away from Chief Wahoo to the recently introduced Block-C. Previously, Cleveland Indians spokesman Bob DiBiasio had described the block-C logo as alternative to Chief Wahoo: "We have added a logo, the block C, recently in addition to the Wahoo logo and the script 'Indians'. Fans of the team have alternative ways to express their support." In 2002, DiBiasio described an Indians hat with the letter "I" in similar terms, as official merchandise that provides an alternative without Chief Wahoo. Owner Larry Dolan had said the alternative logos are "another marketing tool" and "it's not true" that they are a means of phasing out Chief Wahoo. The Encyclopedia of Sports Management and Marketing has described the new hats and team mascot Slider as "an effort to distance the franchise from the controversy".
The use of these alternative logos has at times proved newsworthy. In 1994, when President Bill Clinton threw the first pitch at Jacobs Field, he wore a hat with the letter-C logo instead of Chief Wahoo. A White House aide described the decision in as one taken "in recognition of the sensitivities" involved, and it spurred public debate on the issue of Native American names and images in sports. Critics accused Clinton of "an apparent attempt to appease his 'politically correct' constituency".
When Cleveland played Baltimore in the 2007 "Civil Rights Game" in Memphis, logos were removed from uniforms for both teams during that games. This caused some sportswriters to assert that the office of the Major League Baseball commissioner understood, "on some level, that Chief Wahoo is the wrong message". The controversy was heightened by Memphis' location on the Trail of Tears. The president of the Faraway Cherokees in Memphis said, "My family was on the Trail of Tears. We feel offended that they would bring a team here called the Indians. It's racist. We aren't gone."
In 2013, the Chief Wahoo logo was also absent from merchandise sold at All-Star Game FanFest activities in New York City. The use of alternate logos on official merchandise led sportswriters to speculate that Major League Baseball was uncomfortable or cautious about using the Chief Wahoo logo. Major League Baseball's use of an alternate logo on its website has led to similar speculation.
In 2009, when the Cleveland Indians moved their spring training operations to Goodyear, Arizona, the Chief Wahoo logo was not used on the outside of the local stadium where they practiced. The Chief Wahoo logo had been prominently displayed at the team's previous spring training facilities in Winter Haven, Florida. Explaining that Wahoo's absence from the city-owned Goodyear Ballpark had not been the team's decision, then-Indians-president Paul Dolan said, "It's not our ballpark. I would expect some sensitivity was involved, but ultimately it's the city's ballpark." A city spokesperson said that they were following Cleveland's marketing lead after the team used the script "I" logo on the player development complex in addition to the ballpark. Dolan said there was also "some sensitivity involved" with player development complex. The logo is also absent from team property and employee clothing in Arizona.
Cleveland sportswriter Paul Hoynes has written that the Chief Wahoo logo was not used in Goodyear "because of the heavy population of Native Americans in Arizona." According to the 2010 census, the Arizona population is 4.6% Native American or Alaska Native, compared to 0.4% in Florida and 0.2% in Ohio. Sportswriter Craig Calcaterra has described the issue more bluntly, saying that "in the southwest there is a much larger Indian population than there is back in Ohio and that not putting up a big racist, comically-exaggerated red-faced logo of an Indian is simply a matter of common courtesy." Chief Wahoo is still used on the Cleveland Indians' spring training web page, where the logo is framed within the name of their host city.
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 was criticized by some sportswriters. In 2009 MLB redesigned the Indians "Stars and Stripes" cap with a "C" logo replacing Chief Wahoo.
Similar events played out several years later. In 2013, manufacturer New Era Cap Company released an image of a hat featuring a flag-themed Chief Wahoo to be worn by the team on the Fourth of July. According to a source at Major League Baseball, the image was mistakenly released because of a misunderstanding that all teams would be using their main logo. After news reports criticized the "short-sightedness of covering a Native American logo with stars and stripes", New Era removed the Chief Wahoo design and released an image of a flag-themed block-C logo hat that would be worn instead. Some sportswriters have speculated that the Chief Wahoo design may actually have been intended for use. The Cleveland Scene called it "the most offensive Cleveland Indians hat ever".
The use of Chief Wahoo has been criticized by Native American activists and some contemporary sportswriters. Chief Wahoo is a centerpiece of a Ferris-State-University-maintained traveling exhibit on racist Native American imagery, and a 2012 article in The Cleveland Scene described him as "the only professional sports logo in the Western world that caricaturizes a race of people". The Cleveland Indians' Vice President of Public Relations has defended the use of Chief Wahoo, while framing the team's decision to no longer "animate or humanize the logo" in terms of their "acknowledgement to the sensitivities involved". The head of the Cleveland American Indian Movement (AIM) has described the use of the mascot as "exploitative, bigoted, racist, and shameful", and an article in a 2010 psychology text cited Chief Wahoo as an example of a racial microaggression.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, without specifically mentioning Chief Wahoo, released and advisory opinion opposing the use of Native American mascots by non-native teams. The NAACP has also opposed the use of Native American symbols by sports teams. Artist David Jakupca of the International Center for Environmental Arts (ICEA) is credited with designing the current Anti-Wahoo Logo in 1992. It gained international popular attention when it was it exhibited by ICEA at the 1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna, Austria.
In a list of "10 Sports Team Names that Caused Controversy", BET called the debate over Chief Wahoo "one of the most infamous mascot controversies". In 2011, Business Insider listed Chief Wahoo as one of twelve "uncomfortably racist vintage brand mascots."
Chief Wahoo was featured in a 2012 Ohio Historical Society exhibit called Controversy 2: Pieces We Don't Talk About. The exhibit featured "difficult" objects from Ohio Historical Society collections, including a vintage Chief Wahoo jacket, a Nazi flag, and 19th century prints that stereotyped African Americans. The following year, the National Museum of the American Indian advertised a daylong seminar on racist stereotypes in American sport with a handout that featured Chief Wahoo.
In 2013, amidst growing debate around a campaign for the Washington Redskins football team to change their name, a writer for The Cleveland Scene described what he saw as the difference between the Redskins debate and the Chief Wahoo debate: "Bluntly, there's zero legitimate debate as far as Chief Wahoo is concerned. Zero. It's an aggressively racist symbol, and it's mortifying if you take thirty seconds to look at the image, or think about it in a human context."
There have been multiple failed legal and legislative attempts to end the use of Chief Wahoo. In 1972, Indian activist Russell Means announced a $9 million suit by the Cleveland American Indian Center against the team for libel, slander, and defamation from the use of Chief Wahoo. Writer Don Oakley criticized both the dollar amount and the grounds for the suit in an editorial article, saying,
"$9-million is 'umpteen' dollars in anybody's vocabulary, including that of the original Chief Wahoo, the comic strip character who coined the word. But the suit is real enough, and it reads like something that might have been brought against a defendant at the Nuremberg trials ... Such a heavy burden for such a little guy to carry. The 'racism' behind Chief Wahoo will be news to the millions of people who have followed the baseball Indians over the years, and who no more associated their symbol with real Indians than they believe that Englishmen are short, pot-bellied, run around in knee breeches and wear a Union Jack for a vest."
Russell Means described receiving hate mail for the only time in his career after a TV appearance on the subject, including letters advocating the "ethnic cleansing" of Indians, and the legal process lasted over a decade. In 1982, both sides announced that they were near an agreement; one method of settlement being considered was an annual "Indian Day" at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. A lawyer for the defense said that an out-of-court settlement was preferred, but that he doubted a financial agreement would be part of it. The suit was finally settled in 1983.
In 1993, an Ohio state lawmaker promised to introduce legislation that would have blocked the use of public funds for a new stadium if the Indians did not change their logo. A similar measure had been introduced in 1992, but it failed to pass by six votes. Former Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White once condemned the logo as a racist caricature and proposed a referendum to strip it from all city-owned property, but the suggestion went nowhere. The United Church of Christ and some Native American leaders praised even the possibility of an official condemnation. However, Juan Reyna, chairperson of a local activist group, criticized White's reasoning, saying, "There will never be a majority in favor of getting rid of it. There are more people at a single Indians game than all the Indians in the whole tri-state area. It needs to be done because it's the right thing to do."
A 1998 article in the Cleveland State Law Review outlined several possible legal challenges to the use and validity of the Chief Wahoo trademark. Among the possible arguments was the notion that the Indians' actions in Jacobs Field (since renamed "Progressive Field") were a state action according to the symbiotic relationship test established in Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority. If there was also an implicit discriminatory intent in the design of the logo, then its use would be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The author indicated that this approach would face significant legal hurdles. An alternative and perhaps more successful approach would be to challenge the validity of the trademark, because trademark law bars the registration of disparaging or scandalous marks. A 1999 article in the Harvard Law Review also outlined an equal protection (Fourteenth Amendment) strategy for suits against teams that use native American names and symbols.
Native American activists used one of these strategies — suing to remove trademark protection on disparaging marks — against the Washington Redskins in the 1990s. After early victories for the activists, newspapers including the Ohio State University Lantern and The Akron Beacon Journal suggested that trademark protection for Chief Wahoo might be in jeopardy.
A pair of editorials published in 2009 by The Akron Beacon Journal avoided the issue of trademark protection, but raised questions about how Chief Wahoo might affect Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption. One of the editorials concludes that money, not legal issues, will be the ultimate cause of change:
"But private schools and private businesses like the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins have a constitutional right to call themselves whatever they want and, if they wish, they may use logos and mascots that offend people. When it no longer makes them any money they will change."
The Penobscot Indian Nation, the tribe with which former Cleveland player Louis Sockalexis is identified, has formally asked the Cleveland Indians to stop using the Chief Wahoo logo. In 2000, the Penobscot Tribal Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the team to retire the logo. The resolution said that the Penobscot Nation found Chief Wahoo "to be an offensive, degrading, and racist stereotype that firmly places Indian people in the past, separate from our contemporary cultural existence." It also said that the logo "emphasizes a tragic part of our history — focusing on wartime survival while ignoring the strength and beauty of Indian cultures during times of peace."
After the resolution passed, it was sent to the Cleveland Indians for the first time. Tribal Governor Barry Dana predicted that "reasoned discussion" would be productive and that the Cleveland franchise would be willing to talk with the Penobscot Nation. Although Indians vice-president of public relations Bob DiBiasio received a hand-delivered copy of the resolution several years later, as of 2009 the team had not acknowledged the resolution.
When a writer for Associated Press attempted to contact DiBasio in 2009 about the Penobscot resolution, he reported that messages "were not immediately returned".
Almost nine years after the Penobscot nation first passed their resolution against Chief Wahoo, the Maine State Legislature passed a bill that condemned the logo. The legislation, HP1045, made explicit reference to the team's failure to acknowledge the Penobscot resolution. HP1045 read in part:
WHEREAS, the Cleveland Indians team ignored a petition by the Penobscot Nation in 2000 to cease and desist the use of its caricature mascot "Chief Wahoo," which the Penobscot Nation and many other Americans consider racist and disrespectful to the memory of Louis Sockalexis ...
RESOLVED: That We, your Memorialists, respectfully urge and request that the Cleveland Indians baseball team immediately drop the use of the mascot "Chief Wahoo," which would demonstrate the team understands the disrespect this symbol represents to the Penobscot Nation, the citizens of Maine and the legacy of Louis Sockalexis.
Newspapers record protests against Chief Wahoo as early as 1971, and news accounts describe annual Opening Day protests every year since 1973. The size of the protests grew in the 1990s. In 1991, a group called the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance was formed to protest quincentennial Columbus Day celebrations. The next year, the group shifted its efforts, and since then has focused on protesting the Indians' team name and logo. In its early years, the group drew national media attention as it negotiated with team management over whether Chief Wahoo would continue to be used once the Indians moved to their new stadium. Around this time, a group called Save Our Chief collected 10,000 signatures on a petition calling for the team to keep the logo, and Chief Wahoo ultimately remained in use. Team owner Richard Jacobs cited the petition drive, and in an allusion to popular support announced that "Baseball belongs to the fans, and if they want us to keep it as our logo, we will." When the team moved to its new ballpark, the stadium manager, Gateway Economic Development Corporation, attempted to prohibit demonstrations there, and protesters sued for access.
The logo drew renewed scrutiny during the 1995 World Series, when the Cleveland Indians played the Atlanta Braves. The games were marked by protests in both cities. During game three of the series, researcher Ellen Staurowsky recorded 650 verbal mentions or visual appearances of Cleveland-team-related Native American images. Although protestors had by then demonstrated against Chief Wahoo for decades, High Country News reported on a fan's accusation of "fair-weather" activism.
The 1997 All-Star game was also home to protests; these were attended by a descendant of Louis Sockalexis, the Native American player in whose honor the Cleveland team is supposedly named. The Cleveland Indians played again in the World Series that year; before the series began ABC News covered the Chief Wahoo protests and named Native American activist and artist Charlene Teters their person of the week. At the turn of the 21st century, newspapers described the recurring protests as "an Opening Day tradition".
Newspapers and other publications have described a tense atmosphere surrounding these protests, some of which resulted in legal actions (see below). Reporters have described antagonistic behavior from game attendees (e.g, shouting "You killed Custer!", or directing war whoops at protesters), and characterized fans as "ambivalent and sometimes belligerent". According to researchers, "it is the protestors whose phenotypic traits correspond with stereotypical representations of Indians that receive the most negative attention ... [the] most vocal fans make darker-skinned protestors the targets of their most disparaging remarks". Physical confrontations have included fans throwing beer on protestors, and participants have described derogatory remarks:
"Each year for the past six or seven years I have joined our native American brothers and sisters and others from the Cleveland area in protesting the use of the racist symbol of Chief Wahoo. Each year we stand outside the stadium, and hear people yell at us to 'go back home.' The irony of telling a native American to go back home is never understood by them it seems."
Asked if the strength of the argument was more important than the size of the protest, team owner Larry Dolan agreed that it was, and said that "you can whip a group of non-thoughtful people to come up and protest anything". Later, in the same interview, Dolan described the protests in greater detail:
"It frankly bothers me when I see protestors out there, every opening day. Invariably in the last few days, they want to go to the court to say they ought to be able to protest closer to where the folks are. Now, people who are serious about what they're about don't do it that way. It's difficult for me to give them a whole lot of credence when they just show up, television cameras are there, they do their thing, and they're gone. I'm not encouraging them to come back, you understand, but if we're going to have a possible dialogue, they need to understand where we're coming from."
Protests are still a regular feature, but are smaller than they were in the 1990s. Today, the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance has 8 to 12 core members and a total membership of approximately 150 people. Researchers have suggested that Cleveland's low Native American population and its transient status, traveling to and from reservations, have contributed to recruiting difficulties. American Indian Movement chapters elsewhere in the country have sometimes held protests at Cleveland's away games.
The Native American Journalist Association (NAJA) has formally called on newspapers to stop broadcasting Indian mascot names and images. As of 2009 only five newspapers had committed to doing so in all cases. In some cases, such as the Journal Star of Lincoln, Nebraska, newspapers have chosen to do away with "particularly offensive" examples such as Chief Wahoo. Explaining their decision to no longer print the logo, the Journal Star called it "an example of rank caricature". The move was criticized in a book about "hard-charging leadership in politically correct times", which described the Journal Star's decision in a section titled "Into the PC Cesspool". A year after the Journal Star implemented its original policy, it announced a broader policy wherein the paper would no longer print logos for teams that use Native symbols.
Since 1992, The Oregonian has had a policy banning the use of team or mascot names offensive to members of racial, religious, or ethnic groups, and in a 2013 editorial column, a writer for the paper cited Chief Wahoo as a particularly egregious example of a logo the paper would not print. The policy, the first of its kind in the United States, was made by then-editor Bill Hilliard and continued by his successor Sandra Mims Rowe.
Both Hilliard and Rowe were lauded in a speech to NAJA by Minneapolis Star-Tribune editor Tim McGuire. Under McGuire's direction, the Star-Tribune implemented a similar policy in 1994.:15 McGuire described the 1994 policy as "easily the most polarizing decision I've ever made", one that resulted in 218 cancelled subscriptions and his being called a "liberal socialist". According to McGuire,
"The clincher in the decision making process was an odd discovery that during the Twins/Braves World Series in 1991, our page one writer, Howard Sinker, wrote every page one story on that series without ever mentioning the word Braves. And no one noticed. Editors at the Star Tribune didn't notice. Readers didn't notice. The Native American community didn't notice. That discovery convinced me, obviously wrongly, that the move to ban these nicknames just wouldn't be that big a deal."
Under the leadership of editor Anders Gyllenhaal, the paper reversed its position in 2003, although it vowed to use alternate logos for teams that had them.:15 Describing the paper's new policy in 2003, Gyllenhall wrote, "If a newspaper bans the common phrases that offend one group of readers, how does it respond when others take issue with words in the news?" The new policy specifically cited the Cleveland Indians' "script 'I'" logo as a preferable alternative to Chief Wahoo.:16 In an editorial, the paper approved the new policy, saying that "newsrooms should reflect reality as accurately as possible", but nevertheless called on teams to drop nicknames that had been appropriated from Native Americans.
In a 1997 incident, the Seattle Times digitally erased Chief Wahoo from a photos of Cleveland players, prompting executive editor Michael Fancher to apologize, "We took racial sensitivity a step too far." Fancher explained that the Times' policy is to "respect Native-American complaints that the nicknames and mascots of some sports teams are offensive", and to "avoid discretionary uses of the mascot images". General news editor Mike Stanton said that sensitivity must be addressed through inclusion or exclusion of option images, but that "We can't change the objective reality." Fancher said that the appropriate solution would have been to choose an alternate image.
In 2001, the Kansas City Star implemented a new policy that discouraged publication of certain logos. The paper's vice president and editor described the rationale using Chief Wahoo as an example: "Chief Wahoo is a ridiculous, offensive, racist caricature. We would be ashamed to run it as an editorial cartoon or comic strip, so why should we repeatedly publish it in the sports pages of our newspaper?" In a 2003 interview, Kansas City Star managing sports editor Mike Fannin also used Chief Wahoo as an example when describing the policy.:14 Drawing a line between what he viewed as "stupid" versus inoffensive subject matter, Fannin said:
"We’re just really interested in documentary style sports journalism. We just think that stupid things like the Redskins and Chief Wahoo get in the way of us doing serious work ... We don’t think [terms like 'chief or brave' are as] compelling and obvious an issue as Redskins and Chief Wahoo. Braves, in my mind it’s like using the generals, the Kansas City Generals.":14
NAJA commended the Kansas City Star for their new policy. In a 2003 report, NAJA listed several other newspapers that "generally tend not [to] publish pictures" of Chief Wahoo. The list included The Oregonian, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Kansas City Star, and the Lincoln Journal-Star, as well as The Portland Press Herald and The St. Cloud Times.:11–16 An article in an American Bar Association publication described these policies as an example of voluntary restrictions on hate speech.
Various religious groups have condemned the use of Chief Wahoo. In 1991, the United Church of Christ passed a resolution condemning the use of Chief Wahoo, saying that "the use and misuse of Native American imagery affronts basic human rights and dignity and has a negative impact on human self worth". The Native American head of the group's Indian council criticized the logo, saying, "The image that it depicts looks kind of sub-human. It doesn't look like someone I would consider to be Indian." In an article on the resolution, the team spokesman defended the use of the logo, describing the team's relationship with the local Native American community as "very positive".
Two years later, the Catholic Church's Diocese of Cleveland denounced the use of the logo in a statement by their Commission on Catholic Community Action to Promote Justice. The statement cited a 1988 Vatican document saying that acts "which lead to contempt and to the phenomena of exclusion must be denounced and brought to light without hesitation and strongly rejected in order to promote equitable behavior."
When Minneapolis Star-Tribune editor described his decision to stop printing certain team logos in 1994, including Chief Wahoo, he framed the act in terms of a spiritual epiphany:
"A key part of that spiritual inquiry was an increased focus on the concept of the Second Great Commandment ... The Second Great Commandment is Love your Neighbor as you love yourself. I understood well the concept of the Second Great Commandment but what did it really mean for a newspaper editor whose publication makes people sad, mad and glad everyday. It seemed to me that it clearly meant that I ought to deeply consider that if these nicknames were offending a certain and important part of my audience, then I needed to get rid of those names. It seemed like a basic, humane gesture to my fellow man."
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 barred its Ohio employees from wearing the logo to work.
The United Methodist Church denounced the use of Chief Wahoo in a vote taken during their quadrennial General Conference that took place in Cleveland in 2000. The measure passed without debate by a vote of 610-293, and was similar to previous resolutions that did not specifically mention Chief Wahoo. The East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church had previously considered the issue of Chief Wahoo in 1998. Delegates at the conference's annual meeting defeated by a two-thirds majority a resolution condemning its use. The resolution urged church members to stop wearing hats or clothing displaying the logo, causing one delegate to say, "I would cease being a United Methodist before I would cease wearing my Chief Wahoo clothing."
The United Church of Christ reaffirmed their position in 2000, when Bernice Powell Jackson, the executive director of the UCC Commission for Racial Justice and executive minister of one of the UCC's five covenanted ministries, called for the logo to be discontinued. She wrote:
"Chief Wahoo is a racist stereotype and logo. The bug-eyed, buck-toothed, grinning red figure honors no one. It destroys the self-esteem of native American children and it mis-educates other children. It teaches them that indigenous people are sports team mascots, not human beings created in the image of God. The definition of racism most often used is prejudice plus power. All of us have learned prejudices about other groups of people, but when we have the power to live out those prejudices, then it is racism. Chief Wahoo is a racist symbol because those in power — in this case, the sports industry and the mainstream media — refuse to hear the voice of the oppressed."
When stadium management made efforts to exclude protesters, the United Church of Christ joined others in a First Amendment suit. A 2005 editorial appearing in Religion News Services said the UCC had been active against Chief Wahoo since the 1980s, and added that "no other major-league city has a logo with such an offensive stereotype".
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has joined the UCC in their efforts. According to Mark Pelavin, the associate director of the organization, said that the UCC "asked us to sign letters to team owners and to join in some quiet meetings with team officials, and we were glad to do so". In contrast, a 2001 editorial in the Jewish World Review defended Chief Wahoo. In the piece, Cleveland-born columnist Jeff Jacoby contrasted Chief Wahoo with "a grinning, watermelon-munching Sambo". Jacoby said that that the latter would be intolerable "because it promotes an ignorant view of black people as jovial, juvenile simpletons", whereas Chief Wahoo and other logos symbols are merely "stylized caricatures, cheerful cartoon figures that demean nobody and reinforce no negative stereotype."
At their 2001 general assembly in Cleveland, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations passed a resolution urging "the Planning Committee and the Board of Trustees to consult and cooperate" with the UCC's struggle against the use of the Chief Wahoo. The secretary of the association, Wayne Arnason, described the church's call to witness against the use of mascots and logos like Chief Wahoo: "This witness is one your Board of Trustees endorsed as consistent and compelling in our effort to create an anti-racist Association ... This is about the owners of professional sports teams, the media that covers them, the fans that turn a blind eye—and also the political leaders who do not act." After the opening ceremony of the 2001 Unitarian general assembly, more than three-quarters of the attendees participated in a vigil against the use of the logo, with hundreds of Unitarian Universalists marching in solidarity with Native Americans through the rain from the convention center to Jacobs Field. At a 2012 Unitarian Universalist workshop in Cleveland, participants suggested joining again with the yearly protests against Chief Wahoo.
According to a 1996 New York Times article describing a Connecticut high school's decision to do away with the logo, Chief Wahoo has been "adopted by many high school teams." The Connecticut decision prompted student walk-outs and sit-ins. One student, describing his uncertain stance on the issue and desire to have seen a compromise instead, said that Indians were "brave, good-hearted and not corrupt like the Europeans," that "they were the best race of people that ever were," and it gave him pride "to pretend to be one of them."
In 2001, a high school in New Jersey retired a mascot named Chief Wahoo. The mascot shared the same name as the Cleveland logo, but was depicted by a person wearing fringed pants and a red-and-white-feathered headdress. The retirement accompanied a team name change from the Redskins to the Red Hawks.
In 2003, an elementary school district in Channahon, Illinois stopped using Chief Wahoo as the logo for their athletic teams. Explaining the change, a school principal in the district said, "The Cleveland Indian character is not the least bit flattering to Native Americans. As we educate our children, we teach them there is a proud and strong heritage relative to Native Americans, and we should respect that. This is a change we should make."
As of 2011, a high school in Calumet Township, Indiana, continued to use a logo that is named after and strongly resembles Chief Wahoo. The logo was removed from a school sign circa 2009, when the sign was taken down for repairs. Later, all but one member of the local school board agreed that the logo should be reinstated. A news report said that the mascot remains "evident throughout the building, including at the entrance on floor mat." A spokesman for the Indiana High School Athletic Association said the association has no mascot restrictions. In a 2001 interview, the school's athletic director said that the school was generally moving away from the use of the Chief Wahoo logo, but that no formal change had been implemented.
When a high school in upstate New York retired the team name "Redskins", an Oneida Indian Nation representative praised the decision and criticized the Cleveland Indians logo, saying that "high school students are showing more wisdom than these wealthy major league owners".
The original, 1947 version of the logo has been offered for sale on "throwback" jerseys intended for youth sports teams.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the College of William and Mary used as a logo a character named Wampi, "a caricature similar to that used by the Cleveland Indians". A 1972 article in The Flat Hat, the William and Mary student newspaper, discussed the ongoing use of the logo in light of the American Indian Center's recently launched lawsuit against the Cleveland Indians. The president of the student association said that William and Mary's team name should be changed, or the logo should be modified. The college's director of sports information said, "It may not be an accurate portrayal, but then what portrayals are in the promotion business?" He also asked, "Are we going to eliminate all ethnic jokes? Are we becoming so that we can't laugh at ourselves? We sometimes depict our opponents in a demeaning way. Are they going to sue us?" The Wahoo-like character was retired by 1978.
The North Coast Indians, a semi-professional team in California, uses a logo based on Chief Wahoo. Leaders of the Chumash Tribe have asked the team to stop using the logo. The tribe sent a cease-and-desist letter to the team, and planned to ask the city council to bar the team's use of public fields until the logo is changed. The team owner did not respond to requests for comment for two different news stories on the subject.
Educational bodies have sometimes criticized Chief Wahoo. In a guidebook on evaluating American Indian resources for classroom use, the Montana Office of Public Instruction has described Chief Wahoo as an example of a disrespectful image of Native Americans. A report on the use of Native American mascots by the Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction described Chief Wahoo as an example of a stereotypical Native American image.
The faculty senate at Kent State University has passed a resolution objecting to the use of Chief Wahoo by members of the school community. The resolution was first proposed in 2002. In the discussion around the issue, one of the faculty members compared the use of Chief Wahoo to a hypothetical baseball teamed named the Phoenix Fallen Four that uses a bright red target for its logo. In the hypothetical scenario, the intent of the name and logo is to honor of the victims of the Kent State Massacre, but the result is that positive images of Kent State are "unable to compete". The same faculty senator said that the American Indian Society on campus viewed the issue as a concern. Arguments against passing the resolution were that it would generate ill will on campus and that the intent was fine but "we don't change beliefs by proclamation". The 2002 resolution failed to pass by two votes. The resolution was again brought before the faculty senate in 2004, when it passed by a vote of seventeen to six.
After the Kent State faculty resolution passed, it received some criticism in the school's student press. One student columnist characterized the resolution as seeming like "yet another instance of the radical left trying to make other people feel bad about not conforming to their perception of what constitutes offensive behavior". He accused the radical left of wanting to criminalize the wearing of a Cleveland Indians jacket while allowing pornographers and flag burners to "gleefully dance around under the umbrella of the First Amendment".
The controversy was covered in an essay published in Kent State's Writer Center Review, a journal of outstanding student papers. The essay describes the sentiments of the author of the 2002 resolution, a professor of Shawnee descent named Thomas Norton-Smith. Norton-Smith described negative reactions to his campaign, such as "nasty notes pinned to his bulletin board" and the removal of posters from his office door. In the essay, Norton-Smith makes clear that the purpose of the resolution was not to ban the logo, but only to raise awareness of issues surrounding its use.
In 1999, Cuyahoga County Public Library barred its workers from wearing the Chief Wahoo logo to work. A memo issued to employees said that the logo was not the image that the library wants to project. The policy drew approval from local Indian groups but caused the executive director of the library to receive "a lot of grief" from employees, one of whom complained that "the library prides itself on not censoring". Nevertheless, a library spokesperson later said that the staff was "accepting the directive". The ACLU protested the decision, and the legal director for ACLU Ohio said that the issue was one of free speech, not racism. The ban prompted Ohio state legislator James Trakas (R-Independence) to propose legislation that would cut public funding to any agency that bans a sports logo. The legislation did not pass. Trakas described the ban as "political correctness at its extreme". In response to concerns that some might feel denigrated by the logo, Trakas said, "America certainly has a scattered history when it comes to Indians, but we're talking about a sports team here. Get over it."
When owner Larry Dolan bought the team in 2000, he said, "I have no problem with Chief Wahoo. I don't think there is any disrespect meant. If I did, I would consider a change." In a 2006 interview, team owner Larry Dolan defended the use of Chief Wahoo after describing a meeting with student demonstrators at Oberlin College:
"I agreed to meet with them, they gave me their ills, and some of their personal backgrounds. I ask them, 'What you tell me is sad, and is worthy of response, but can you give me any antidotial [sic] evidence that these things that you speak of actually have occurred? And where and by whom?' They have no such evidence. And they never were able to supply any, and never has any of the other groups that have protested. My personal feeling is, I don't wear their shoes, I understand that, but the dour Indian is not in the, is not the best traditional Indian. The smiling Wahoo is probably a little bit over-the-top, but it's better than the other, and it's a beloved figure around the country."
The Oberlin student newspaper recorded the interview and quoted Dolan as saying, "I firmly reject that Wahoo is racist. I see that it makes some Natives uncomfortable — clearly not all. I think I understand racism when I see it." The paper reported that Dolan claimed his incentive to action was weakened by the fact that Native Americans do not universally find the logo offensive.
Larry Dolan's son, Paul Dolan, was at the meeting, and was quoted as saying, "Whether or not [Chief Wahoo] is offensive is not really a debate. Whether it's racist is really the crux of the issue." Paul Dolan was at the time vice president and general counsel to the Indians, and after a tenure as franchise president would go on to become the team's CEO and controlling owner.
Team spokesman Bob DiBiasio has defended the use of Chief Wahoo, saying that while the logo is a caricature, it is "not meant to represent anyone or any group." He has also stated that Chief Wahoo is not meant to be racist, and asked "if there is no intent to demean, how can something demean?" DiBiasio has expanded on these statements elsewhere. In another interview, he said:
"We believe this is an issue of perception. We think people look at the logo and they think about baseball — they think about C.C. Sabathia, Bob Feller, Larry Doby, and Omar Vizquel. The Wall Street Journal did an editorial about the Jeep Cherokee and concluded that something cannot be demeaned if there is no intent to demean. We still believe the vast majority of our fans like Chief Wahoo."
Statements from other members of Cleveland management have ranged from noncommittal to very supportive. Kurt Schloss, former director of merchandising and now vice president of concessions, has defended the use of the logo as part of the team's identity: "Chief Wahoo is a piece of who we are ... It's not about representing a person or a group, it's about our history." In 2007, while working as general manager of the team, Mark Shapiro stated, "It's not an area I have control over or choose to focus." In 2013, after becoming president of the Indians, Shapiro was asked by an interviewer about "the official position of the club on the, on the whole, you know, Chief Wahoo thing". He explained:
"I think you always want to be sensitive to anybody that finds it offensive, that, you know ultimately the Indians name and the team, ah, is in recognition of our pride and affiliation with the first Native American baseball player. So I think what we choose to do is celebrate, you know, Louis Sockalexis and and his history and tradition with the Indians and, and not to focus on uh anything that we would view, that, you know, anything that we don’t view and certainly don’t want to put, uh, be offensive to anyone."
DiBiasio has described conversations about Chief Wahoo with the Cleveland American Indian Movement and others as "an exchange of ideas, concepts, philosophies". The Cleveland American Indian Movement also sought comment from Progressive Insurance, owners of the naming rights to the Cleveland stadium. The group's request had gone unanswered for several months as of May 2013, when a Progressive spokesperson claimed to have no knowledge of their letter.
Penobscot Indian Kenneth Paul, who at the time of a 1993 interview was former Indians player Louis Sockalexis' oldest surviving relative, described his reaction to being photographed in a Chief Wahoo hat, saying, "They made me look like a fool." On the subject of the logo itself, he said, "Wahoo or Yahoo, it's more insulting than anything. I think they should change the whole thing to something else. It won't break my heart. It won't break anybody's." Paul's son, Kenneth Jr., has said of Chief Wahoo, "I wish they'd get rid of that smiling Indian head."
Donna Loring, the Penobscot Indian Nation's representative to the Maine State Legislature, has criticized the logo, saying that it "denigrated the contribution that Sockalexis made to the team and to professional sports."
After the Indians' management chose to retain Chief Wahoo in 1993, Clark Hosick, executive director of the North American Indian Cultural Center in Akron, Ohio, explained his position on the logo. Hosick said he believed that the logo encouraged stereotypical comments, such as sports reports describing how "the Indians scalped" their opponents. He also said that he believed some of these comments would disappear if the team dropped the logo.
Charlene Teters, a Native American artist and activist, was interviewed for a 1997 story on Chief Wahoo and remarked, "We are the only group of people still used as mascots. You wouldn't have someone painted in blackface run on the field." Teters again discussed the logo in a 2009 documentary produced by New Mexico PBS: "This image should have gone by the wayside along with Little Black Sambo and the Frito Bandito ... That this image honors neither Indian or non-Indian people, and that I think anyone who looks at this can recognize it as a blatant racist caricature, tells you, really, again, our place in the society ... If it is trivial, as they like to say, then why is there any objection whatsoever to changing these images? I really feel that it has to do more with power than it has to do with money."
The Youth "Indian" Mascot and Logo Task Force is a group in Wisconsin that has asked high schools to retire Native American mascots. In a statement, the group has contrasted the relative acceptance of Chief Wahoo versus that of Little Black Sambo: "How is it that our society can agree to get rid of the image of 'Little Black Sambo', but allow our schools to continue to use caricatures like 'Chief Wahoo' or the sacred symbolism of a chief's headdress? In an age when we are teaching our children to be morally responsible and racially sensitive, we cannot continue to let this form of institutional racism be a matter of choice."
In a 2011 statement before the Senate, Morning Star Institute president Suzan Shown Harjo cited Chief Wahoo as an example of the "savage savage" stereotype of Native Americans (as opposed to the "noble savage"), describing the logo as one of several prominent "hideous, inhuman, insulting or just plain dumb-looking" depictions.
Russell Means has criticized Chief Wahoo, saying, "It epitomizes the stereotyped image of the Native American. It attacks the cultural heritage of the American Indian and destroys Indian pride."
James Fenelon, a researcher and member of the Dakota tribe, has described Chief Wahoo as an "unambiguous racial icon meant to symbolize stereotypical and usually negative images of Native people as ‘wild’ but ‘friendly’ savages."
Writer Jack Shakely described his childhood purchase of Chief Wahoo hat in a Los Angeles Times editorial that criticized the use of Native American mascots:
"I got my first lesson in Indians portrayed as sports team mascots in the early 1950s when my father took me to a Cleveland Indians-New York Yankees game. Dad gave me money to buy a baseball cap, and I was conflicted. I loved the Yankees, primarily because fellow Oklahoman Mickey Mantle had just come up and was being touted as rookie of the year. But being mixed-blood Muscogee/Creek, I felt a (misplaced) loyalty to the Indians. So I bought the Cleveland cap with the famous Chief Wahoo logo on it. When we got back to Oklahoma, my mother took one look at the cap with its leering, big-nosed, buck-toothed redskin caricature just above the brim, jerked it off my head and threw it in the trash. She had been fighting against Indian stereotypes all her life, and I had just worn one home. I was only 10 years old, but the look of betrayal in my Creek mother's eyes is seared in my memory forever."
Native American writer and filmmaker Sherman Alexie has referenced Chief Wahoo when describing the impact of his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven: "To break Indians out of museums and movies and Chief Wahoo—that’s a legacy for any book." In an interview for Time magazine, Alexie compared the logo to Little Black Sambo: "A lot of people think it's a minor issue. Google search Chief Wahoo, put it up on one side of your screen, and then Google search Sambo, and put it on your screen. And this horribly racist, vile depiction of African Americans looks exactly like the Chief Wahoo mascot of the Cleveland Indians. Exactly. And why is one acceptable and the other isn't?" An article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel described Alexie's point of view that white people have the privilege of being appalled at logos like Chief Wahoo, but that being appalled never feels like being humiliated.
Anton Treuer, author of Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask, was asked in an interview whether "native people can be more readily imagined than known". Treuer replied that this was the case, and cited sports mascots as an example. He went on to describe the persistence of Chief Wahoo: "We've come a long way since, you know, Little Black Sambo, you know, effigies and things like that kind of dominated the cultural landscape in America, but for some reason Chief Wahoo has persisted."
Steve Russell, a writer and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, has contrasted Chief Wahoo with what he views as the relative inoffensiveness of Cleveland's team name:
"The Cleveland Indians are probably the least offensively named professional team, until you meet Chief Wahoo. It is like naming a team the 'African-American Freedom Fighters' and then making Sambo the mascot. It is like naming a team 'La Raza' and then resurrecting the Frito Bandito for mascot duty. No one can make the honor claim with a straight face, unless they seriously think Chief Wahoo is a straight face."
The issue was framed similarly in The Praeger Handbook on Contemporary Issues in Native America by Bruce Elliott Johansen. Johansen writes:
"The term Indians, on its face, is not overtly defamatory. Sometimes the context, not the name itself, is the problem. In the case of the Cleveland Indians, face value is the clincher — the face, that is, of the stupidly grinning, single-feathered Chief Wahoo."
A writer for The Encyclopedia of Race and Racism makes a similar point, writing that the "use of laudatory nicknames contrasts sharply with the practice of using racial caricatures as mascots—such as Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians".
Bob Roche, director of the American Indian Education Center, has criticized the design of the logo:
"This red feather that is worn by the so-called Chief Wahoo is a part of a ceremonial feather that is given to our warriors that have shed their own blood in battle ... It's very spiritual, the eagle feather; the eagle represents the messenger to the creator because it flies so high. And the eagle, of course, is revered. And so it's a mockery of our own religion, our own spirituality."
Ellen Baird, a Native American professor of sociology at the University of Dayton, has criticized the logo on similar grounds as Roche. Baird says that the feather depicted in the logo is traditionally given to a warrior wounded in battle, and alleges that institutional racism prevents people from learning of this.
Sherman Alexie has also criticized the Cleveland team's appropriation of items considered sacred. After comparing Chief Wahoo to Little Black Sambo in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, Alexie added, "The feathers, paint and drums are part of our religion. More than just racist, those images are blasphemous."
Reporter and columnist Phil Wieland recounted the remarks of a man named Kenny Lone Eagle in a 2013 opinion piece for the Northwest Indiana Times. According to Wieland, Lone Eagle is not bothered by Chief Wahoo. Wieland opens the piece by referring to Lone Eagle as a Native American, one of "the people we used to call Indians and whose butts John Wayne kicked in all those movies".
Indian Country Today Media Network has called the logo "grossly offensive".
Chief Wahoo has been criticized by former Cleveland Indian Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League. Explaining his desire to see the team do away with the logo, he said, "It reminds me of blackface minstrel shows." Former Cleveland pitcher Charles Nagy, talking about the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves logos during the 1995 World Series, has said, "I understand what the big fuss is and everything like that," but to him "it's just a team logo". When the Cleveland Indians were considering drafting Navajo player Jacoby Ellsbury in 2007, a member of the organization asked him whether he would be bothered by the logo. Ellsbury told a reporter, "They asked me if I would be offended or anything like that if they had taken me. I said it was fine, but I thought that was nice on their part ... I'm not offended. You can look at it two different ways. You can look at it that it's offensive or you can look at it that they are representing Native Americans. Usually I'll try to take the positive out of it."
"It is absolutely racist. Does Jacoby Ellsbury look like that? He's a Native American. That's the problem with the issue and with those kinds of caricatures. They are not in any way representative of that culture and the people and they send a message that is disrespectful and stereotypical of a race of people that deserve better. I think it says something that they felt a need to ask him about it."
University of North Dakota president Charles Kupchella criticized Chief Wahoo in a 2006 interview that he granted shortly after the University of North Dakota lost an appeal to retain its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. Describing his belief that respectful logos were being incorrectly grouped with offensive logos, he said, "Chief Wahoo, for example, is a cartoonish, goofy-looking portrayal of an Indian. And they’ll say studies have shown … Well, our logo is not like that. They also will use nicknames like “redskins” and “savages” and lump the Sioux in with all of those and say they’re all wrong. In fact, there some that aren’t and some that are. Those that are should be changed and stopped immediately."
The spokesman for the Kansas City Chiefs has contrasted his team's use of Native American imagery to that of teams like the Cleveland Indians, saying, "Each situation is different ... we don't have what we consider to be Native American caricatures."
According to New York Daily News sportswriter Flip Bondy, a "high-ranking Yankees official" criticized the logo during the 2007 playoffs in Cleveland, saying, "I can't believe they still have that thing." Bondy has accused Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig of giving Chief Wahoo "a tacit go-ahead".
Various sportswriters have gone on record supporting or opposing the Chief Wahoo. Among those who have supported the use of the logo are Phil Rogers, who applauded team owner Richard Jacobs "for risking political incorrectness by letting Chief Wahoo live". The logo has been opposed by Ohio sportswriter Terry Pluto, who wrote, "I love Chief Wahoo. But I also know it's time for Chief Wahoo to go." Cleveland-born sports columnist Joe Posnanski has written, "Wahoo is an inherentry racist symbol. Nobody could really deny this. Nobody could look at that grinning mug and say, 'No, it’s really a flattering portrayal of Native Americans, who were conquered, nearly wiped off the planet by our ancestors and then forced to live on reservations.'”
In a piece for USA Today, sports columnist Joe Saraceno called Chief Wahoo "probably the most outrageous, blatant symbol of racism in sports today." In a column that generally criticized activist Russell Means' work against Native American imagery in sports, sportswriter Bud Leavitt made an exception in the case Chief Wahoo, saying that the Cleveland Indians "engage in goofy, smiling, dumb, stereotypical baseball".
Chief Wahoo has also been criticized by author Paul Lukas, who regularly writes about sports uniforms on his website "Uni Watch". In an article on "throwback" uniforms for youth teams, Lukas bluntly criticized the original version of the logo from 1947 as "super racist-looking". Writing for ESPN, he cited the logo as an example of "inherently offensive" imagery and said, "It's hard to view Chief Wahoo (the Cleveland Indians' logo character) as anything other than a racist caricature." Lukas has also predicted, "It's no longer a question of whether the Indians will retire their racist Chief Wahoo caricature. It's just a matter of when." Lukas' prediction was printed alongside a list where he ranked the Cleveland Indians' uniforms 28th out of 30 Major League Baseball teams. The previous year, he had ranked Cleveland uniforms 29th out of 30 teams, writing that Chief Wahoo is a "lightning rod of an ethnic caricature whose time has clearly passed." Sportswriter Jim Caple ranked Chief Wahoo last among Major League Baseball logos, calling it "wildly inappropriate" and criticizing the argument that the logo is a tradition.
Caple's criticism was the impetus for an editorial in The Lantern, the student newspaper of Ohio State University. The author of the editorial wrote:
"It is no surprise that in today’s ultra-sensitive culture people would take offense to a Native American logo, because frankly, some individuals take offense to everything ... Organizations do not choose their teams’ names to express racist emotions toward a certain group of people. They choose their names to express strength, pride and, in the case of the Indians, respect. I am afraid that we are slowly becoming a society that bends after every word of complaint. There are serious efforts in place to sterilize our culture, even in sports. But before anyone finds fault with the Indians’ name or logo, they should first learn the story behind it."
In 2005, the NCAA implemented a ban on tournament participation among teams with "hostile or abusive" logos or mascots. In the ensuing debate, sportswriters on both sides of the issue used Chief Wahoo an example of an unacceptable logo. Writing for Sports Illustrated, Roy Johnson, who supported the ban, wrote that "Each time I see Chief Wahoo, the grinnin' caricature that represents the Cleveland Indians, my mind's eye sees big-lipped black-face images from the Stepin Fetchit era." An Indianapolis Star editorial on the NCAA ban also compared Chief Wahoo to Stepin Fetchit.
Jason Ashcroft, a sportswriter for the Kentucky-based Ledger-Independent, called the NCAA ban "political correctness gone too far" but nevertheless cited Chief Wahoo as an example of a racial stereotype. Ashcroft went on to describe how seeing Chief Wahoo reminded him of a conversation with an Ojibway and Wyandot Indian friend who said, "That mascot is just like a black sambo cartoon or something that you'd see on a poster during Nazi Germany. He doesn't represent anything honorable or brave about native people; he's a caricature and it's wrong." An editorial in the Miami Herald complained that the Florida State University mascot was being unfairly targeted, and said, "Nor can you lump the Chief Osceola mascot with the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo caricature, which is demeaning."
Grant Brisbee, writing for SB Nation, has described the logo's offensiveness as an apolitical issue: "I don't like to get political, but I don't even think Chief Wahoo is a political thing. It's a c'mon-seriously thing. Because, c'mon, seriously." Brisbee's criticism appeared in a list that ranked Major League Baseball teams from least to most likable. Cleveland was ranked 16th of 30, and Brisbee leavened his criticism by noting that the logo was insufficient cause to "hate the team actively".
During the American League Championship Series in 2007, ESPN ran a picture of Cleveland fans whose faces were painted to resemble Chief Wahoo. The photo prompted discussion in several media outlets. Deadspin asked if it is "really okay for Indians fans to be dressing up in red face". King Kaufman, writing for Salon, said "There is nothing about grinning-Indian redface that’s even a little bit less racist than minstrel-show blackface." Matthew Felling, writing for CBS News, called Kaufman's column "off-day filler", but said that the logo "truly does call to mind Black Sambo or a similarly belittling depiction". In an e-mail statement, an ESPN spokesman said, "The photo came down due to normal, daily editorial cycle. However, we have also discussed the photo choice internally and determined that we must, and will, be more selective as the series progresses."
In a 2007 column for The Poynter Institute, Roy Peter Clark discussed television images of fans dressed in feathers and red face paint to resemble Chief Wahoo, and encouraged journalists not to wait on protests before acting on the story. Clark described Chief Wahoo as "the absolute equivalent of the blackface Sambo images that polluted American culture in the first half of the 20th century, and Nazi propaganda portrayals of Jews with big noses and wicked sneers." He went on to assert that Chief Wahoo was news because these media images "offer vicious portrayals of a race of people — iconic representations that become associated not with shame but with triumph and joy."
Justice B. Hill, a Cleveland-born sports reporter, has characterized Cleveland's continued embrace of Chief Wahoo as a failure to depart from his country's racist past. Hill writes of Cleveland,
"Here, you find a remnant of racism plastered everywhere. It shows itself in the image of Chief Wahoo, a cartoonish mascot the Cleveland Indians parade everywhere to promote the ballclub. Shunting aside political correctness, the team owners and fans have clung to a stereotype so abasing of Native Americans that it shames a hard-luck city that needs no farther shame ... It is impossible to find right in racist symbols like a Nazi’s swastika, a Klansman’s robe and Chief Wahoo. They are nothing but wrong."
Joseph Hayes, writing for the Times Herald of Michigan, has criticized Chief Wahoo as a stereotypical character that demoralizes a culture. Mansfield Frazier, a Cleveland-born resident and activist who has written for local papers, has said that Chief Wahoo presents an unwelcoming image for the city.
Stefan Fastis, writing for Slate, has alleged that supporters of Tottenham Hotspur soccer club who call themselves the "Yid Army" rely on the same "flawed logic" as Wahoo supporters in order to justify their use of a slang ethnonym for Jewish people. The Financial Times of London also compared the "Yid Army" controversy to the issues surrounding Chief Wahoo. In an editorial, the paper decried the "trivialisation of genocide into Holokitsch", and said that the real problem was "historical ignorance of the doltish kind" that allowed for the adoption of Chief Wahoo. The paper criticized Chief Wahoo and the "tomahawk chop" of the Atlanta Braves as "comic-book editions of histories of oppression and extermination."
Sportswriters have occasionally written about the "Curse of Chief Wahoo", suggesting (seriously or not) that Chief Wahoo is the cause of the Cleveland Indians' failure to win a World Series since 1948. In a rank-ordered list of 50 Major League curses, an ESPN column listed The Curse of Chief Wahoo as number 5. By way of explanation, the columnist writes, "Get rid of the logo and join the 21st century. Their choke in the '97 Series is underrated."
In the book Baseball: An Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, author Edward J. Rielly writes that "Chief Wahoo does no credit to anyone, much less to team management and fans who persist in failing to understand the demeaning nature of the characterization". In the book Imagining Baseball: America's Pastime and Popular Culture, David McGimpsey writes, "If the Washington Redskins are guilty of the most sharply racist use of Native American imagery, the mascot of the Cleveland Indians, Chief Wahoo, is the most painfully ridiculous." The Rollie Fingers Baseball Bible describes in two paragraphs how perceptions of the logo have changed since its creation:
"It was way back in 1947 when the highly animated Chief Wahoo first made his way into the hearts of Cleveland fans. The people of the era found him to be an inviting beacon, and the Chief quickly became a symbol of city pride. His wide comic smile and playful eyes insinuated that anyone who came into his ballpark would be given a most enjoyable experience.
"But as the decades passed, more and more people began finding this wahoo to be an insensitive sterotype. Accordingly, his visibility began to shrink. Although Chief Wahoo still exists, he has been pushed off of the primary real estate into less visible acreage, not unlike the Indians he was modeled after."
Author Jeffrey Powers-Beck compares elements of derogatory comics to elements of the Chief Wahoo design. In his book The American Indian Integration of Baseball, he describes an early 20th-century cartoon where Native American player Louis Leroy is shown wearing a feather pinned in his baseball cap, performing a "mock-Indian dance", and "comically hunched with the same absurd toothy grin as 'Chief Wahoo'".
Sportswriters have sometimes used references to Chief Wahoo as a lead-in to other Native American imagery. For example, a 1986 Associated Press article begins, "C'mon Chief Wahoo, start beating those war drums. The Tribe is in first place." A Wall Street Journal article on hypothetical trades between fantasy baseball teams said, "If this deal were made prior to the season, it would smell. People would think Chief Wahoo was smoking too much peace pipe."
Logo creator Walter Goldbach suggested one possible resolution to the controversy: "If they have a problem with it, why don't they get a bunch of Native American artists and have a contest between them to come up with a new logo? Does that sound fair?" Donna Loring, the Penobscot Indian Nation representative to the Maine State Legislature, has said that she hopes for a similar resolution, one where "the Cleveland Indians will someday work with Penobscots to draw up a new, respectable emblem to replace Chief Wahoo". Others have taken a harder stance. In 1993, a founder of the pro-Wahoo group Save Our Chief suggested that Native Americans had failed to examine the Indians' history or to discern the logo's honorific intent: "The Cleveland Indians name and logo has a huge history behind them. If Native Americans would look at the history they'd realize they are being honored."
In a 1999 interview, the head of a sports marketing company in New York commented on the Cleveland Indians' good performance and high apparel sales that year: "From a sports marketing standpoint, this is what you live and die for. You wait for the big win, then you take that logo and you go crazy with it." The same year, in testimony before the US Patent and Trademark Office, a socially responsible investment firm criticized Chief Wahoo as a "manipulation and blatant misuse of Native American imagery". Eleanor Rusnak, owner of the J.F. Novak company, which designed and manufactured the original Chief Wahoo emblem in 1947, has spoken out against the logo: "People felt differently back then, and we didn’t know how American Indians felt about the emblem. But it’s become a whole different world, and I’m just glad I’ve gotten to live long enough to be a part of it.”
Some fans have defended Chief Wahoo in the press. In a 1997 interview, a fan who used the name "Dave Wahoo" to run an online bulletin board said that the team should not change its logo, adding, "What's next — German people complaining because the Milwaukee Brewers have a mascot named Bernie the Brewer?" A fan that traveled from Mexico to Cleveland described his positive feelings toward the logo in an interview for the team's official blog, saying that he had been a fan ever since he first saw the logo on TV at the age of six.
Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, has called the logo "the most blatantly offensive of all the symbols I've seen of Native Americans" during 40 years working in his field.
Students at Oberlin College have discussed the logo's use with team owner Larry Dolan, who serves on Oberlin's board of trustees. The head of the American Indian Council at Oberlin presented Dolan with a packet "containing historical, scholarly and position papers about American Indian team mascots", and Dolan has met with Oberlin students and faculty who oppose the use of Chief Wahoo. In 2000, the school's American Indian Council expressed its concern over Dolan's presence on the board of trustees at an open forum meeting. Around the same time, other Oberlin students, faculty, and staff spoke out about Chief Wahoo. The assistant dean of students and director of the school's multicultural resource center said, "On finding out that Larry Dolan was a trustee, I almost fell out of my chair. It surprises me that Oberlin would get a trustee that was related to a racist symbol like that." A professor of history said, "It's clearly offensive. And I am as flabbergasted as I was when I first moved to Ohio every time I see that logo. I'm also flabbergasted that all Indian fans don't recognize its offensiveness." The college secretary was more ambivalent, saying, "I'm not a big baseball fan, but I've always found the anti-Indians/Wahoo argument non-convincing. I don't see it as racist, but I'm not an Indian."
Stanley Miller, the executive director of the NAACP's Cleveland branch, has lamented the lack of response to Chief Wahoo's continued use. In an interview, Miller said that if black Americans were depicted in an image akin to Chief Wahoo, "the NAACP would be up in arms about it. The Urban League would be up in arms about it."
During the 2007 post-season, the Christian Science Monitor ran an editorial deploring the logo's continued use. In 1993, the Christian Science Monitor said that the team's move to a new stadium "would seem an ideal time to change the team's mascot", and in 2000 it suggested that social pressure might force the team to change its name and logo.
Ohio-born comedian Drew Carey, a libertarian and a critic of political correctness, has commented on Chief Wahoo multiple times. In one interview he said, "I used to wear a Wahoo hat all the time. But if it hurts so many people, they probably ought to get rid of it." In an interview with sportswriter Tom Hoffarth, Carey said, "I don't really mind it. Although my ancestors were from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. So… Fighting Irish anyone?" Native American activist and writer Suzan Shown Harjo has criticized Carey, saying that his "punch lines portray actual Indian people as a notch below fictional 'Indian' logos and as dumb, easily duped and deservedly caricatured." In 2006, Carey's likeness was used for a bobblehead doll in which the comedian was modeled wearing a Chief Wahoo hat.
Comedian John Oliver, commenting on writer Scott Raab's Chief Wahoo tattoo, called the logo "a reminder of one of the most painful moments in American history." Raab has written about the complicated relationship he has with his Chief Wahoo tattoo, which he got while drinking with Dennis Rodman in 1994. Although he "love[s] Chief Wahoo", Raab also describes the logo as "a degrading, racist caricature" and believes it should be retired.
While working with New Era Caps, rapper Kid Cudi wrote about his desire to "revamp" the Cleveland logo and create "something that doesn't offend Native Americans". It was not clear whether the revamped logo would appear on a hat. Stalley, a rapper and Ohio native, described in a 2013 interview his large collection of fitted Indians caps, including Chief Wahoo hats. Stalley references a fitted Chief Wahoo cap in his track "Go On", where he raps, "Wahoo fitted, pick my beard in case it's matted."
Researchers have studied the effects of exposure to Chief Wahoo and other depictions of Native Americans. One study of American Indian high school students found that, although exposure to Chief Wahoo generated positive associations, students also reported depressed self-esteem and community worth scores. After exposure to Chief Wahoo, these students' depressed scores were lower than those of other students who read about how depictions of Native American communities commonly emphasize high rates of alcoholism, suicide, and teen pregnancy. Follow-up research on American Indian college students found that exposure to Chief Wahoo resulted in depressed predictions of future achievement. The researchers concluded:
Although these studies cannot address the process by which these undermining effects occur, the studies do suggest that the effects are not due to negative associations with mascots. We suggest that the negative effects of exposure to these images may, in part, be due to the relative absence of more contemporary positive images of American Indians in American society ... The only way to reduce the negative impact of these constraining American Indian mascot representations is to either eliminate them or to create, distribute, and institutionalize a broader array of social representations of American Indians. The latter option would communicate to both natives and nonnatives that, beyond the historically constituted roles as Indian princesses and warrior chiefs, there exist other viable and desirable ways to be American Indian in contemporary mainstream society.
This research has been presented to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs within the context of other studies showing similar results. In a prepared statement to the committee, Jesse A. Steinfeldt, a researcher at the University of Indiana, described the scientific evidence available:
There is an emerging body of psychological research that demonstrates the deleterious psychological ramifications of race-based mascotery ... While this practice has a negative impact on the psychological functioning of American Indians, the insidious nature of race-based mascots, nicknames, and logos is further evidenced by its ability to improve the psychological functioning of members of the dominant culture at the psychological expense of members of a marginalized group in society ... Just because the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo is seen frequently on ESPN doesn't make it right.
Subsequent research has found that exposure to the Chief Wahoo image "activated negative, but not positive, American Indian stereotypes", and that the predominately European-American study participants' "motivation to control prejudice, prejudice level, and experience did not predict negative stereotype activation".
In 2010, the authors of a paper published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology reported the results of two studies on the effects of American Indian mascots on observers. According to the authors, "both studies show that participants primed with an American Indian sports mascot increased their stereotyping of a different ethnic minority group." The alternative weekly publication Cleveland Scene sardonically interpreted these results to mean that "looking at Chief Wahoo, the mere existence of Chief Wahoo, can change your opinions of a whole separate ethnicity", adding that the study "probably confirms that Clevelanders and Indians fans are inclined to stereotype and hate just about every group in the world." The magazine Pacific Standard also framed the study in terms of the Indians' logo, headlining their story "Chief Wahoo’s Revenge: One Stereotype Begets Another".
Historical research into the veracity of popular stories regarding the origins of the Indians' team name and logo has been cited in an American Psychological Association resolution recommending the retirement of Native American mascots, symbols, and images by sports teams. Research into the Cleveland Indians' use of Native American symbols has been cited in a bibliography accompanying an American Sociological Association resolution calling for an end to the use of Native American logos in sports.
In 1996, the Cleveland Institute of Art opened an exhibit featuring the work of Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds, a half-Arapaho, half-Cheyenne associate professor of art at the University of Oklahoma. Among the pieces he designed for the exhibition was a 25-by-12 foot billboard featuring an image of Chief Wahoo and the text "Smile for Racism". Amidst controversy, the school initially announced that the piece would not be funded or shown. Heap of Birds announced his intent not to attend the opening, and alleged that the school was afraid of losing donations from Indians owner Richard Jacobs. The Indians' spokesman had no comment on the matter, while the chairman of the institute's board explained that he was offended by the piece and said, "I don't think that's art."
Eventually, the school reversed its position after determining that it was contractually obligated to fund the work. Heap of Birds decided to attend the opening, and the piece was eventually shown. He produced at least two different variations on the work, referred to in a journal as American Leagues 1 and American Leagues 2, both of which used the same design. The billboard itself was installed in 1998 near the approach to Jacobs Field. Heap of Birds later wrote of his artwork:
"Today, Indian people must still struggle in order to survive in America. We must battle against forces that have dealt us among the lowest educational opportunities, lowest income levels, lowest standards of health, lowest housing conditions, lowest political representation and highest mortality rates in America. Even as these grave hardships exist for the living Indian people, a mockery is made of us by reducing our tribal names and images to the level of insulting sports team mascots, brand name automobiles, camping equipment, city and state names, and various other commercial products produced by the dominate culture. This strange and insensitive custom is particularly insulting when one considers the great lack of attention that is given to real Indian concerns. It must be understood that no human being should be identified as subservient to another culture. To be overpowered and manipulated in such a way as to thought to become [sic] a team mascot is totally unthinkable."
Chief Wahoo has appeared in other artwork as well. Native American artist Charlene Teters has incorporated Chief Wahoo merchandise into installation pieces. She describes this art as "an extension of the work that I've been doing on the front lines, of the struggle to remove stereotypes and symbols that reinforce the stereotype of the Native people". Teters goes on to say, "What I do is collect these things and put them in a context for people to examine them. I think that we become so desensitized to them that we don't even see them for what they are. And so what I'm doing is putting them in a very concentrated space for people to feel the bombardment. The purpose for me is to create a forum for people to debate the issue."
Teters has also incorporated Chief Wahoo into mixed-media pieces. In a work titled What We Know About Indians, large black and white portraits of the artists' family members are "blocked" by brightly colored overlays of mass-media depictions of Native Americans.:32 Teters' childhood portrait is overlaid with a Disney image of Pocahontas, and another portrait is overlaid with an image of Chief Wahoo.:32
In Germany, artist Cyprien Gaillard has installed a 12-meter, neon-outline Chief Wahoo replica atop an abandoned building in Berlin's Mitte district. The Wall Street Journal has said the project "combines a symbol of the American Rust Belt with a souvenir of Communist town planning", and is "meant to reflect on the broader subject of urban decline."
In another work, titled Indian Palace, Gaillard silkscreened the logo onto a salvaged window from East Berlin's demolished Palast der Republik. The work appeared in an exhibition whose curator described the piece in terms of power, hierarchies, and values: "The window panes have arrived as ‘spoils’ in Frankfurt. The term ‘spoil’ originally referred to the hide of an animal or the enemy’s armor and was later extended to apply to old fragments of architecture. The Native American grinning through the shimmering glass brings to mind the constant change in power relations, hierarchies and values." In an article on Gaillard's work, Indian Country Today Media Network said that it is up to the viewer to decide "whether it is a clever re-imagining of a controversial symbol or merely a callous and harmful repetition."
Chief Wahoo has also appeared in numerous works of folk art and fan art. A 2002 decision by the US Department of Labor Employees' Compensation Appeals Board described the actions of a former letter carrier who claimed to have produced over 3,000 pieces of Chief Wahoo yard art, although she later said that claim was an exaggeration. The former letter carrier also produced Chief Wahoo clocks. In 2006, a likeness of Chief Wahoo took third place in a local sand sculpture competition, finishing behind sand sculpture versions of King Neptune and a man in a swimming pool.
In Meadville, Pennsylvania, the adult children of a 74-year-old Cleveland Indians fan hired a chainsaw artist named Brian Sprague to carve a seven-foot-tall maple tree stump into a full-body statue of Chief Wahoo. In 2007, a Toledo, Ohio newspaper reported that an Oregon man intended to have a tree trunk carved into a depiction of Chief Wahoo at bat.
Elements of Chief Wahoo were incorporated into a collage that appeared in the Tribe Tract & Testimonial, a fanzine that is now collected at the Cleveland Public Library. In 2013, a Cleveland artist designed a T-shirt that combined Chief Wahoo's feather with imagery from the Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Cavaliers.
In 1987, Cleveland players Joe Carter and Cory Snyder were scheduled to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated posed in front of a stained-glass rendition of Chief Wahoo. However, the stained-glass logo was not ultimately used on the cover. The unused concept was described in a Los Angeles Times article that does not clearly state whether the stained-glass logo was an amateur or professional work. Fan artists have incorporated Chief Wahoo's likeness into stained glass pieces.
The controversy surrounding Chief Wahoo, and arguments against the logo's use were reviewed in a 2006 documentary called WaWHO? Nothing is Sacred. The documentary was completed by Dennis Atkins, an American Indian and a Cleveland native, and was produced by the Cleveland branch of the American Indian Movement (AIM). It was screened in October of that year to a half-full auditorium at Ohio University. Atkins and most of those interviewed for the documentary conclude that money is the ultimate factor behind the Cleveland Indians' ongoing use of Chief Wahoo.
A Cleveland-area Girl Scout troop offered its members the ability to earn a "cultural sensitivity" patch by watching the documentary. The patch was created by the same company that designed and manufactured the original Chief Wahoo emblem in 1947. The troop leader had adult children with Chief Wahoo tattoos, and was herself a longtime fan of the logo until she watched the documentary. She became interested in the subject after an encounter at a historic reenactment that made a Native American girl scout wonder if Indians were unwelcome. The troop leader than asked the scout's father whether her troop could visit his family's reservation. The father, activist and professor Robert Roche, agreed to the request, but asked that visitors not wear the logo. Roche is interviewed in the documentary.
In an Associated Press story, Roche said that he would gladly show the documentary to anyone willing to watch it. He described his stance on Chief Wahoo in terms of his family, saying, "I'm nobody's mascot, and [my daughter] Feather is nobody's mascot. That's the bottom line." Cleveland Indians spokesman Bob DiBiasio declined to comment for the story.
There is little available polling data specifically with respect to Chief Wahoo. The team has alluded to popular support as a reason for retaining the logo, and the Indians spokesperson has said that a majority of people support the logo (as of 2007). In October 2013, the team began a new survey of ticket holders to assess fan attitudes towards the logo and other topics. The results have not yet been released. The team had conducted no polling research prior to 2002 to see how many fans would welcome a change. As of 2007, the Annenberg Public Policy Center, a communication policy center that has studied similar issues, had also not conducted polling about Chief Wahoo.
A non-scientific online poll from 1997 found that 42% of respondents favored doing away with Chief Wahoo, and 58% favored retaining the logo. The comments and opinions of poll respondents formed the basis of a university professor's essay on Native American mascots. The essay concluded that supporters and opponents occupy "mutually exclusive communicative communities" advancing competing visions of race. In another non-scientific poll from 1999, the National Spectators Association reported that 60% of respondents believed that the Cleveland Indians should change their logo. Respondents to a non-scientific online poll from 2008 voted Chief Wahoo the third most popular still-active pro-sport mascot.
Surveys from a 2012 dissertation on Native American identity in northeast Ohio identified several different American Indian viewpoints about Chief Wahoo. The majority of participants thought that the logo was harmful. However, there was disagreement among this group over whether the elimination of the logo should be a priority in light of the other issues facing Native Americans. Those who felt most strongly negative about the use of the logo tended to have lived in both cities and reservations. Participants were drawn from two groups, Native People Reclaiming Indian Identities (NatPride) and Relocated Indians of Ohio (RelOH). A 1995 survey asked college students whether the logo should be retained and whether its use was discriminatory. Indian and black students were most likely to believe that the logo was discriminatory and should not be retained.
After visiting reservations across the West, sportswriter Terry Pluto wrote that an "overwhelming majority" of residents objected to the logo: "I've talked to people who live there. It comes down to this: Most don't like it. I didn't say all. I've even seen a few wearing Chief Whaoo caps. But the overwhelming majority object." Comedian Drew Carey has remarked, "I work a lot of Indian casinos. They have no problem with [the team name] Indians. They have a problem with Chief Wahoo." Conversely, team owner Larry Dolan has said that Indian groups he has met at casinos do not have a problem with the logo.
More broadly, polling results published in Sports Illustrated reported that "neither Native Americans in general nor a cross section of U.S. sports fans" found Indian-related team names and mascots offensive. The poll did not specifically investigate opinions about Chief Wahoo. Researchers and Native American activists have criticized the results on the basis of 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. A 2004 Annenberg survey reported similar results; in that poll 91% of self-identified American Indians were not offended or bothered by the name of the Washington Redskins. Unlike the Sports Illustrated poll, the Annenberg report described the survey methodology and wording of the question.
A possible flaw in random and anonymous polls of Native American opinion is that surveys must rely upon self-identification to select the target group. In an editorial in the Bloomington Herald Times, Steve Russell, a Cherokee citizen and associate professor of criminal justice at Indiana University, states that both Sports Illustrated and Annenberg's samples of "self-identified Native Americans... includes plenty of people who have nothing to do with Indians". The problem of individuals claiming to be Native American when they are not is well-known in academic research, and is a particular problem when non-natives claim Indian identity specifically to gain authority in the debate over sports mascots.
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.
During opening day protests 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 the owner could not place content-sensitive restrictions on its use. Demonstrators had moved their protests to a nearby public area while the case was pending.
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