An Update on the Cleveland Indians and Chief Wahoo

Back in February, I wrote about an action brought by an indigenous person in Canada regarding the Cleveland Indians’ logo and team name.

Baseball may be America’s national pastime, but there remains a single franchise north of the border, and that has created an interesting conflict between American and Canadian law. There is currently litigation about both Chief Wahoo and the Indians’ name pending in Canadian courts. In that case, an indigenous person is suing to block the Indians from using either their name or Chief Wahoo while playing in Toronto on the grounds that it violates Canada’s legal protections for indigenous peoples. Major League Baseball has intervened in that case on the Indians’ behalf. In Canada, “Indians” is a foreign (United States) registered trademark which has also been registered in Ontario, and Canadian law on free speech and trademarks is different. And if the plaintiff wins that case in Canada, the Indians would likely be required to play the Blue Jays in Toronto as simply “Cleveland.”

Interestingly, had the case been decided after the season, at least part of the issue would have become moot: the Indians are phasing out Chief Wahoo after this season. The case, however, has since ended — and though most reports indicate that Douglas Cardinal, the plaintiff, lost, that characterization of the result seems not to be entirely accurate. Instead, Cardinal’s lawyer, Monique Jilesen, told the Canadian Press that the case had been “resolved.” In fact, evidently as part of that resolution, the Indians did not display Chief Wahoo on their uniforms during their recent four-game weekend series in Toronto. According to Paul Hoynes,

Manager Terry Francona said the decision not to wear Chief Wahoo on their uniforms or caps during this four-game series at Rogers Centre in Toronto was made by the organization to show respect for anyone offended by the soon-to-be discontinued logo.

“We’re just trying to be respectful,” said Francona. “We’re never trying to be disrespectful by wearing it. We just want to do the respectable thing.”

Asked about the change, Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro, who previously held the same role with Cleveland, expressed approval.

As Calcaterra notes, this is a new position for Shapiro. Just five years ago, when asked about Chief Wahoo while still president of the Indians, he said this:

Rizzo: “Alright, I’ve gotta ask this because there’s been rumors flying around and I want to get to this… I love the [block C] hats… and I notice a lot of C hats, a lot of younger people are wearing the C. Some of the older people still have the Chief Wahoo. Mark, are you guys phasing out Chief Wahoo?”

Shapiro: “No, Chief Wahoo’s not going anywhere. [Crowd applauds, Shapiro laughs nervously] We, we, are certainly doing our best to, uhhh, huhhh, to promote the C because the C is something that we’re proud of. The C, we’re proud of because it stands for Cleveland and that’s you know, we want our team, we want our our fans when they see our team play to know that who we’re representing are the Cleveland Indians. And uh you know we feel like the C, ah you know, maybe more than some of the other logos we’ve tried over the past years is one that’s gonna stick and one that is traditional and one that if you look back in the early 1900s for about 15, 20 years that block C was a part of the Indians’ history. So, I’m a big traditionalist, our uniforms reflect some tradition throughout them. Even the script “Indians” has went back away from the shadow to the single outline more like the 40’s, so you know we’ve got the script Indians, we’ve got the C, and we’ve got Wahoo. All three are important to us, all three are gonna be featured prominently. But I think what you’ve seen is, the fact that we’ve pumped up a new logo so much, and that it’s become such a core part that yes it does pull away and detract a little bit from the Chief, but the Chief is still on every uniform that we’ve got.

In the rest of that interview, Shapiro expresses similar sentiments.

On the other hand, the idea that Shapiro’s current position is new isn’t entirely accurate. Shapiro was instrumental in the addition of the Block C while in Cleveland. Even in interview cited above, he pushes the new logo. And Shapiro told Canadian Press as early as 2016 that he considered that a highlight of his Indians tenure.

“The logo — Chief Wahoo — is one that was troubling to me personally… So when I was an official spokesman for the Cleveland Indians, I distanced myself from the fact that it personally bothered me. But we as an organization with strong support from ownership came up with the ‘Block C’ that you’re wearing on your credentials right now. We built equity in the ‘Block C.’

“We gave that alternative for people and I think that we established that as an important logo and now the primary logo for the Cleveland Indians. And so I’m proud of that.

“I think there will be a day, whenever that is, that the people that are making decisions here decide that Chief Wahoo is no longer fitting. But people in this city — over 90 per cent of them — are deeply, deeply passionate about Chief Wahoo and want him to be part of their team. So that’s about all I’ll say because I’m not really focused or care that much about that anymore. That’s my opinion.”

So where does that leave Wahoo? This past weekend in Toronto was, if anything, a window into the future of the Cleveland franchise. Shapiro’s change of heart reflects a growing trend in Major League Baseball front offices, backed by Rob Manfred, that the logo is better relegated to a past era. And it seems it’s an era that Mark Shapiro is, at least in part, responsible for creating.

We hoped you liked reading An Update on the Cleveland Indians and Chief Wahoo by Sheryl Ring!

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Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

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Moate
Member
Moate

Good. Put the bullet in this already. Racists can go out and buy up as much of the old racist stuff as they want, but we don’t need to keep making more.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

Hijacking the top post to say this about the entire comment thread below:

When did the Fangraphs comment section become as hateful, political, and petulant as the worst parts of the internet? Used to be full of well-reasoned debates, inside jokes, and responses from the authors.

#KeepNotgraphs

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC

Certain topics have always brought out trolls. And now they feel even more empowered and justified in their tinfoil hat crackpot theories because of who is in the white house. Remember the article about Muslims in baseball?

It had like 200 comments at one point. Now it has about 25. The rest were scrubbed. That was five years ago.

OddBall Herrera
Member
OddBall Herrera

“Certain topics have always brought out trolls. And now they feel even more empowered and justified in their tinfoil hat crackpot theories because of who is in the white house.”

You do have to acknowledge that while, ‘certain topics” do always bring out the trolls, there are a lot more of those ‘certain topics’ on Fangraphs these days than there used to be.

Baller McCheese
Member
Member
Baller McCheese

The trolls are responsible for their own actions. Don’t blame it on the topics.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC

Sure, but I don’t think that the fact that knuckle draggers get their feelings hurt so easily is a reason to not write about something. There is a not a group more sensitive and easily aggrieved as the “anti-PC” crowd. They are also generally pretty simple-minded.

OddBall Herrera
Member
OddBall Herrera

True, I was mostly speaking to the ‘what happened to the tenor of our message board’ question

The only thing the anti-PC crowd gets baited by more than ‘PC crap’ is the perception that even the mere discussion of diversity is being foisted upon them, and that’s definitely a direction Fangraphs has gone in the past six months+

Johnston
Member
Johnston

“There is a not a group more sensitive and easily aggrieved as the “anti-PC” crowd. They are also generally pretty simple-minded.”

That’s an utterly false and totally bigoted generalization.

I’m as anti-PC as you can get, and I and my anti-PC friends are anything but simple-minded. How would you feel about one of us commenting about how your half of the country was simple-minded? Or Communists? False generalizations are bad.

Spahn_and_Sain
Member
Spahn_and_Sain

This is an excellent display of not being sensitive.

Baller McCheese
Member
Member
Baller McCheese

You can’t claim yourself to be “anti-PC” if you:

(1) take so much offense when someone says something that isn’t PC

(2) threaten someone with un-PC actions, as if un-PC is bad and PC is good

If you’re going to be “anti-PC”, you can’t be so hypocritical about it.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

You lost me

Johnston
Member
Johnston

Baller, you clearly can’t comprehend what you read and you don’t even comprehend the tyranny that you so strongly endorse. Bye.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC

@JOHNSTON

“How would you feel about one of us commenting about …”

I’d dismiss you as a troll or an idiot. You comment on every single one of Ring’s articles or any other article about the law or culture around baseball, articles that are easily identifiable based on their titles as covering this type of topic, with complete nonsense. You are either the dumbest person on earth, or more likely just a very dedicated troll. God bless.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

Both the pc crowd and the anti-pc crowd are overly sensitive and easily aggrieved. Equallt so. They complete with each other to see who can be more easily aggrieved and it looks like a tie to me.

zmiller
Member
zmiller

Johnston – you are expecting the indoctrinated snowflakes to to objective, fair, and reasonable. That rarely happens.

There’s no reasoning with the PC cry-bullies. They don’t respond to logic or reason. Think like they do or be prepared to duck.

Johnston
Member
Johnston

“They don’t respond to logic or reason. Think like they do or be prepared to duck.”

They don’t scare me. I’ve tangled with real Communists.

egregious comment
Member
egregious comment

Literally nothing in this comment is true. They do scare you, and you haven’t “tangled” with “real Communists”.

Why are you so upset about a red-faced baseball cap

rounders
Member
rounders

It is amusing to see that the reaction to the most ridiculous and unfit post ever made on Fangraphs was immediately scrubbed and is now declared unfit. The left cannot tolerate being mocked, especially when they have supplied all the rich materiel.

zmiller
Member
zmiller

amen

CC AFC
Member
Member
CC AFC

I’ll assume you are not aware of the existence of any of Twitter, reddit, fourchan, twitch, etc. if you think this is one of the “worst parts of the internet”

Moate
Member
Moate

Taking my post back to say: y’all want to post in some Jordan Peterson fanboy’s troll thread, that’s on you.

Don’t feed the trolls, Nazi punks fuck off, and Be excellent to each other. Break those rules on the internet at your own risk.

david k
Member
david k

While we’re hijacking, I’d like to point out a couple different aspects of this issue. For those that seem to not care if the caricature of the Indian is offensive to some, let me ask if there were a team called the Cleveland Conservatives, and their logo was a Klansman in a white sheet with the white cone hat, setting aside the objections from minority groups for obvious reasons, would those of the Conservative persuasion think it’s ok to have their political beliefs characterized in this manner? Is this offensive caricature misrepresenting a group of people really any different from that of the Indian? And this wouldn’t even touch on the second level of offensiveness of the Indian, namely that it puts down an historically oppressed group of people.

david k
Member
david k

Now my second comment takes a completely different angle. If we consider the Indian offensive, what about something like cheerleaders in the NFL? I know it’s not a team logo, but trotting women in short skirts with lots of cleavage showing really objectifies women as sex objects. I am pretty sure a fair number of women are probably offended by that, especially given how women have been treated as second class citizens for a long time in this country, and continue to experience sexual harassment (as the Me Too movement has shown), so another reminder of women being sex objects is probably a bit tone deaf in current society. So do those who oppose the Indian caricature also oppose the appearance of cheerleaders?

david k
Member
david k

I would wish that those that are going to “thumbs down” my post wouldn’t just do this “drive-by” and actually discuss the issue and explain why you disagree with what I said. I am really trying to honestly explore all sides of this issue. And, yes, I like looking at cute cheerleaders as much as the next guy, but maybe the time for that is passing. Plus, I am now a father of two pre-teen girls so I have to admit that this is making me look at things a little differently too.

frangipard
Member
frangipard

Yeah, why don’t the people you just associated with the Klan discuss this civilly with you?

Saying that roughly half the country is just a milder version of one of the most hated groups on earth is itself absurdly offensive.

I’m not a fan of Wahoo, and not a fan of your bigotry either.

david k
Member
david k

Wow, frangipard, you COMPLETELY twisted what I said in my post. Do you really have that much of a reading comprehension problem? I was just pointing out that IF someone were to do something like that, I would assume that folks on the right would find it offensive, since they would consider it a stereotype and mischaracterization of their views. Likewise, I am sure a fair number of Native Americans similarly find the Chief Wahoo mascot offensive. I was trying to get people to see it from their perspective. Clearly that failed on you.

Again, I NEVER SAID OR IMPLIED that I think half the country (conservatives) are Klansmen. Can you get that through your thick head?

frangipard
Member
frangipard

You said “Is this offensive caricature misrepresenting a group of people really any different from that of the Indian?”

The obvious answer is YES, it is very different. As obnoxious as Chief Wahoo is, Native Americans do in fact have reddish skin, and at one time some did wear feathers in their hair. Like all caricatures, he is an exaggeration of reality.

You implication, then, is that “Klansman” is just an exaggeration of “conservative.” No conservative I’ve ever met would accept even the slightest linkage. They despise the Klan and all it stands for. Hell, plenty of staunch conservatives have worked to put the Klan in jail (e.g. current AG Sessions).

You might as well ask them if they’d object to a logo depicting them as ax murderers or pedophiles or animal abusers. Of course they would object, not because any of those are “caricatures,” but because they would regard them as complete and utter fabrications, with no grounding in reality whatsoever.

When you suggest that Klansman is a “caricature” of conservatives, you are insulting them, whether you know it or not.

david k
Member
david k

frangipard, I think I touched a nerve, and maybe NOW you can understand why minority groups are so “sensitive” and offended by caricatures of them, given how sensitive you appear to be based on my simple example, and it was just an example, not even something that anyone is actually doing. And, no, it’s NOT very different. The fact that you can’t see it, and get your panties up in a bunch over my example, basically proves my point, except that you apparently still can’t see it.

frangipard
Member
frangipard

I’m not a conservative, and my panties are fine.

Allan Wood
Member

Calling a racist a racist is neither hateful nor political nor petulant. It’s simply accurate. Wahoo is SO offensive that anyone wearing it is that far over the line.