And thus, another Columbus Day has passed in which the Cleveland Indians continue to ignite controversy with their mascot.
The organization’s ongoing hesitation to abandon its longstanding, racially insensitive logo, the red-skinned, feather-haired Native American caricature “Chief Wahoo,” has attracted the scrutinous ire of protesters, prompting many to actively root against Cleveland’s success for the duration of its second consecutive playoff stint. Any previous attempt on the organization’s part to remedy this divisive issue has been a half-measure at best, ostensibly altering its primary logo to a stylized “C” in 2014, yet stubbornly clinging to past traditions by sporting Wahoo for 71.6 percent – 116 of 162 games – during its 2017 regular season schedule, according to Sportslogos.net. Worse, the Indians proudly wore Wahoo on their caps during their entire 2016 American League Championship campaign and has thus far opted to do the same during the 2017 playoffs – on a nationally televised stage, Cleveland broadcasts Wahoo to its largest audience.
During a radio interview with WAKR-AM over the summer, Indians owner Paul Dolan insisted that “we [the Indians and MLB] will come to some understanding relatively soon,” and that the club is trying to “find the right balance” to appease the “pressure on a national scene.” However, by failing to fully and immediately commit to a change, Cleveland has alienated a considerable sum of casual baseball viewers who refuse to support an organization that passively accepts a harmful stereotype.
It’s a shame, because, by all other measures beyond logo, mascot and name, Cleveland should otherwise represent the vigorous underdog darling that America typically becomes infatuated with. A small-market midwestern team now possessing the longest active World Series drought in the MLB, the Indians’ focus on balanced team fundamentals and overwhelming pitching, accentuated by an occasional dramatic flair, is the exact concoction of skill and luck that consistently produces an MLB champion. Top to bottom, their lineup is stacked with tremendous, dynamic talent that can hit for both average and power, and their pitching staff is downright oppressive. During their historic 22-game winning streak through August and September, the Indians reached a pinnacle of play so staggering that they practically turned the science of baseball into an artform.
To see an organization boasting so few financial resources possessing such a plethora of explosive talent, and to see that talent blend so beautifully into a synergistic winning machine, is a major win for the little guy in an industry polarized by wealthy coastal teams. What’s more, their first round matchup is against the New York Yankees, arguably the most infamous team in professional sports, one that even the most casual of spectators love to hate for their abundance of wealth and titles. Taking everything into account, the Indians should be the team everyone wants to see go the distance.
But, because of Wahoo, they aren’t. I’ll be honest – and this is where I might lose some of you – I’m a diehard Chicago Cubs fan until the day I die, but should they fail in their pursuit of a repeat, I’d be happy to see Cleveland overcome the final hurdle and win their first title since 1948. Perhaps it’s out of a tremendous mutual respect for the Indians players and coaching staff following the dazzling 2016 World Series or through the ability to empathize with a desperate multi-generational championship pursuit. However, I believe it’s primarily that I simply admire their brand of baseball – Cleveland plays the game with such fluidity, grace and passion that, as a rabid fanatic of America’s pastime who’s followed their story for years, it’s hard not to betray sentiment toward them.
But that’s me, an absolute baseball nut, and to every non-baseball nut questioning why I would potentially support a team with such a tasteless mascot … well, it’s increasingly difficult to justify. Cleveland could own October as the face of American sports, but they’re shooting themselves in the foot by refusing to abandon an insensitive, antiquated logo, thus alienating a general audience. It really is a shame.