This article from SI about the organization Gary has toured with the past four off-seasons (American Football Without Barriers) is a good primer for this blog.
If we’re not careful, Chief Wahoo is gonna put Punxsutawney Phil right out of a job in a couple years. No need for the little critter to predict spring when we can so it ourselves here in Cleveland. Every year, like clockwork, the anti-Wahoo activists grab their soap boxes down from the attic and buy new batteries for their megaphones right around when the Indians head out west to Arizona to get another season of Major League Baseball underway. The beginning of Spring Training and Chief Wahoo arguments seem to always coincide with each other (which is ironic because the logo is nowhere to be found at the complex they share with the Cincinnati Reds in Goodyear.) With so many “traditions unlike any other” here in Cleveland, arguing about our baseball team’s racist logo has got to be right up there.
That’s point #1 here. You kinda can’t deny that Wahoo is a little racist. It’s essentially the Washington Redskins logo without the name. Well, not essentially, it literally is. The cartoon depicts a Native American with red skin. In a vacuum, Wahoo is no different than blackface caricatures. I don’t think there’s any arguing that.
That being said, I love Chief Wahoo. Easy for me to say, I know. I’m a white kid with no Native American heritage. But growing up in the 90’s, the logo doesn’t represent anything other than great memories of my favorite team playing my favorite sport. Does wearing and supporting Chief Wahoo make me racist? Absolutely not. Our logo could be a dolphin, or a jar of peanut butter. We could be the Cleveland Jars of Peanut Butter, and if someone said they were going to make a peanut butter sandwich, I would say “just please don’t eat Brantley or Lindor.” The connection between the logo and what it actually represents has long ago been severed for me. Chief Wahoo doesn’t represent Native Americans. It represents Jim Thome.
Intent is another part of the conversation I think. Wahoo wasn’t created with the intent of disrespecting or making fun of or offending the Native American people. There have been pictures and designs created throughout history with malicious intent. This is most certainly not one of them. From Wahoo’s Wikipedia page:
“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.“
A mascot that would “convey a spirit of pure joy and unbridled enthusiasm.” 60+ years have passed and what is and is not acceptable in society has evolved, but that original sentiment that Wahoo was created to embody will never change.
These are all arguments I use every spring when people ask me how I could like such a racist logo. That’s another thing, real quick. Me supporting Wahoo is me supporting my baseball team, it’s not me supporting racism against Native Americans. Logos don’t work like politicians. People who support a Presidential candidate support the whole thing, the good and the bad. You might not agree with the candidate on 100% of issues, but you get the whole package when you vote to put them in office. I support Chief Wahoo because I support the baseball team it represents. I support hitting more home runs, winning more games and making it to the World Series. I support the BASEBALL TEAM, one thing Wahoo represents. I don’t support racism, another thing some people argue it represents.
All that being said…if a Native American came up to me and told me that they’re offended by Wahoo, I would say you’re absolutely right and we should probably get rid of him. I can like him and think we should get rid of him at the same time. That’s allowed. As absurd as it seems to some of us to argue about a logo, it’s equally as maddening to some Native Americans whose ancestors suffered through some unspeakable things throughout history. I like the logo and the memories it represents, but those pale in comparison.
So this brings us to the point of the blog, Gary Barnidge wearing a “Keep the Chief” shirt while doing some work in Egypt this week. To me, this is a non issue. I wear that shirt all the time, I’m not racist, I’d understand if they got rid of it. I’m also not a Pro Bowl Tight End in the NFL doing international work that’s being well documented in the media, but as crazy as this sounds, I don’t think that changes anything. Would anyone be saying anything if the shirt had no writing inside of it? No. Does him liking a logo of a team that plays in a community he’s done a ton of work for make him a racist, or even a bad guy? No. What’s the issue here? Maybe he was just supporting a great local business in GV Art + Design. Maybe he wanted to wear something that the most possible people would connect with our city while he does all this great outreach all over the globe. Is there another logo that more people connect with Cleveland than Chief Wahoo? I’m not sure there is.
I can understand people being offended by Chief Wahoo. I can’t understand people being offended by a football player who has been great in our community wearing a tee shirt with Chief Wahoo on it.
and oh yeah….
KEEP THE CHIEF