Ernie Harwell, the legendary announcer, posited: "Baseball? It's just a game—as simple as a ball and a bat.
He continued, "Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes, it's a sport, business—and sometimes even religion.”
Unlike any other U.S. sport, baseball has cradled the values of the country’s spirit. Historically, baseball has stood at the forefront of frayed political issues of its day: an all-women’s baseball league during World War II, Jackie Robinson and the push for equal rights of African-Americans. Now, it stands at the controversy of sports logos and their indecencies.
One controversy—or rather, one image—depicts a feather upon the head of a rather obnoxious, grinning red-faced Indian. His name is Chief Wahoo, and he hails from Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland's baseball team was founded in 1901 and named the Indians since 1914. Its logo, Chief Wahoo, has existed since 1932.
Every Opening Day of the Indians’ season, Native Americans protest the portrayal of the image's offensive depiction of their heritage. Indians fans have argued for years that the image is just that: an image that represents their love of their sports team and their city.
As a lifelong, die-hard Cleveland fan who still wears his Chief Wahoo apparel around New York City, I certainly represent a biased opinion. It may seem simple for those on the outside looking in to banish Chief Wahoo from existence, but for many Clevelanders, myself included, it is a separation that hurts, as a recent Fox 8 Cleveland online survey illustrates. When asked whether the team should get rid of the Chief Wahoo mascot, roughly 10,000 individuals replied, vehemently opposing the question with a “no” vote of over 86 percent.
For those opposed to the logo, the hard truth is that just because an image is offensive to some, does not make it unjust. The Cleveland Indians organization, as a business first and a sports club second, has a vested interest in pleasing its supporters who have already purchased 1.3 million tickets for the 2017 season and not those, mostly outside the city, who believe Chief Wahoo is offensive, outdated or racist.
The Cleveland Indians ownership understands the fan base's emotional and monetary support for its logo and the team. Fortunately, they also comprehend that a U.S. sports club—not just a Cleveland sports club—must be marketable to the entire country.
When primed with a World Series-contending roster and a budding superstar shortstop named Francisco Lindor, arguably the next face of baseball, the organization has acknowledged the other hard truth: in a country built on Native American lands and the backs of African-Americans, symbols that admonish the country's egregious past actions are unacceptable in America’s pastime.
I love Chief Wahoo, but my love for the Indians is not dependent on his survival. I do not love baseball because of its mascots, I love baseball because it is America’s pastime. It grounds the country to its upbringings and the values the United States holds dear.
This is why the Cleveland Indians organization needs to be commended for its handling of the third rail topic Chief Wahoo represents for its fan base and sports business.
Unlike the Washington Redskins, the Indians began phasing out the Chief Wahoo logo from public appearance in 2014. They rebranded the team’s primary logo as a block “C” in place of Chief Wahoo.
Moreover, since the end of the World Series, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has been in discussions about the logo with team owner Paul Dolan. The Indians have reportedly been “very open minded” to the commissioner's willingness to “do away with the logo” and have agreed to a “set list of steps” to take to achieve Manfred’s goal.
In return, though not officially stated as a quid pro quo, the Indians were awarded the 2019 MLB All-Star game in late January of this year.
Just as politics is about cooperation, the Cleveland Indians have done what in today's politics would seem impossible: they crossed the political aisle and worked on an amenable solution for both parties involved. The organization has begun phasing out the logo and will all but abolish it sooner than later, while producing a winning team and All-Star game for the city of Cleveland and its fans.
If only politics were as simple as a game of baseball.