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Decision To Retire 'Chief Wahoo' Draws Mixed Reaction From Cleveland Indians Fans

Patrick Semansky
Associated Press
Members of the Cleveland Indians wear uniforms featuring mascot Chief Wahoo as they stand on the field for the national anthem before a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore, Monday, June 19, 2017.

The Cleveland Indians’ decision to remove Chief Wahoo from their uniforms starting in 2019 is drawing a range of commentary from fans, advocates and even public officials. 

For years, the caricature, which has been the team's logo for about 70 years, has been the subject of numerous protests and lawsuits by those who find it racist and offensive to Native Americans. Despite the controversy, many Clevelanders have a sentimental attachment to the character. 

Greg Vlosich, co-owner of GV Art & Design in Lakewood, is one of them. A few years ago, in response to calls for the team to change the logo, the company started selling t-shirts imploring the club to "Keep the Chief." 

"Every March/April that shirt becomes one of our most popular shirts," he said. "I'm not one that's going to go crazy about the fact that they're getting rid of it, but at the same time we wish it stayed a part of Cleveland history."

Others believe that history should stay in the past. 

“I believe it’s another step in the right direction,” said Philip Yenyo, Executive Director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio.

That sentiment was echoed in a statement by the National Congress of American Indians, which said that logos like Chief Wahoo reduce Native people to "a single outdated stereotype."

The decision to retire the logo is "wonderful news for the city," said Mayor Frank Jackson in a statement. "I applaud the team's decision to show the city, nation and world that Cleveland is an inclusive place that values all diversity - in this case showing greater honor to our nation’s first people by retiring the Wahoo mascot from uniforms."

On social media, the conversation has been heated, with devotees of Chief Wahoo decrying the team's decision as an example of political correctness gone awry, while critics of the logo are cheering the move, saying it was long overdue. 

Still, others dismissed the debate over the logo as trivial, overlooking other issues that face Native American communities.

"I never cared about the damn logo," wrote Jason DeRivera on WCPN's Facebook page.

“You want to talk about issues affecting Native Americans?" said DeRivera, who identified himself as Native American. "Fine, let's talk about the high rates of drug and alcohol addiction among Natives, or about reparations for their stolen land, or maybe about the deplorable conditions on reservations."

According to Major League Baseball, the decision to remove the logo from uniforms and signage at Progressive Field following the 2018 season came after discussions between the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, and the owner of the Indians, Paul Dolan.

Despite the move, Chief Wahoo's face will likely continue to be a common sight at Indians games. The franchise will continue to allow merchandise featuring Wahoo to be sold in retail outlets in Northeast Ohio and fans will still be allowed to wear apparel featuring the logo to games, according to a statement on MLB.com.

"We have consistently maintained that we are cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the discussion," Dolan said in a statement. "While we recognize many of our fans have a long-standing attachment to Chief Wahoo, I'm ultimately in agreement with Commissioner Manfred's desire to remove the logo from our uniforms in 2019."

Adrian Ma is a business reporter and recovering law clerk for ideastream in Cleveland. Since making the switch from law to journalism, he's reported on how New York's helicopter tour industry is driving residents nuts, why competition is heating up among Ohio realtors, and the controlled-chaos of economist speed-dating. Previously, he was a producer at WNYC News. His work has also aired on NPR's Planet Money, and Marketplace. In 2017, the Association of Independents in Radio designated him a New Voices Scholar, an award recognizing new talent in public media. Some years ago, he worked in a ramen shop.