The Cleveland Indians will stop using the Chief Wahoo logo on their uniforms beginning in 2019, according to Major League Baseball, which said the popular symbol was no longer appropriate for use on the field.
The logo has long been the source of anguish and frustration for those who consider it offensive, outdated and racist, but for many of the team’s fans it is a cherished insignia — a divide that has played out at all levels of sports in recent years with teams featuring such nicknames and insignias. Most universities have stopped using Native American nicknames, while other teams like the Washington Redskins in the N.F.L., for example, have resisted growing pressure to do so.
Chief Wahoo, a cartoonish caricature of a Native American that has assumed several forms over the years, first appeared on the Indians’ uniforms in 1948. In recent decades various groups across North America have appealed to the team to renounce the logo, to no avail. But over the past year the commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred, has pressured Paul Dolan, Cleveland’s chairman and chief executive, to make a change.
Citing a goal of diversity and inclusion, Manfred said in a statement provided to The New York Times that the Indians organization “ultimately agreed with my position that the logo is no longer appropriate for on-field use in Major League Baseball, and I appreciate Mr. Dolan’s acknowledgment that removing it from the on-field uniform by the start of the 2019 season is the right course.”
Cleveland has been edging away from the logo in recent years and has used it less frequently, but beginning in 2019 it will not be seen at all on the team’s uniforms, or on banners and signs in Progressive Field, the team’s stadium. Consumers will still be able to purchase items with the logo on them at the team’s souvenir shops in the stadium and at retail outlets in the northern Ohio market, but those items will not be available for sale on M.L.B.’s website.
“We have consistently maintained that we are cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the discussion,” Dolan said in a statement issued by M.L.B. “While we recognize many of our fans have a longstanding attachment to Chief Wahoo, I’m ultimately in agreement with Commissioner Manfred’s desire to remove the logo from our uniforms in 2019.”
Discussions about ending the use of the logo did not include deliberations over changing the actual name of the franchise, though opponents have also sought that over the years. Many schools and universities have changed their nicknames away from representations of American Indians. The St. John’s University Redmen, for example, became the Red Storm in 1994, and teams at the University of North Dakota, once known as the Fighting Sioux, have been the Fighting Hawks since 2015. But many teams still cling to the old names and likenesses despite pressure to eliminate them.
While getting rid of Chief Wahoo will be applauded by opponents, some may see it as only the first step toward the ultimate goal of changing the team name.
Protests against the team names, logos and mascots have flared occasionally over the past few decades. The N.F.L.’s Washington Redskins are seen by many as having one of the most egregiously insensitive nicknames, though the team and the league have expressed little interest in changing it. The Atlanta Braves of Major League Baseball also have drawn criticism, especially for the so-called Tomahawk chant performed by fans at games.
In 2014, under the former team president Mark Shapiro, the Indians reduced the use of the Chief Wahoo logo and introduced a block C as the team’s primary insignia. Shapiro, who is now the Toronto Blue Jays’ president, said the grinning caricature made him uncomfortable. But Chief Wahoo was still used by Cleveland, including during high-profile games in the postseason (the team reached the World Series in 2016).
At Progressive Field, where the Cleveland Indians play, small groups of protesters regularly gather outside the stadium before important games, such as home openers and playoff games. While the protesters frequently incur the wrath of fans passing by on the way to the stadium, they have been on amicable terms with the team itself, which often coordinated with the police and the protesters to ensure their safety and right to assemble peacefully.