The Cleveland Indians will stop using their controversial Chief Wahoo logo on uniforms in 2019, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced Monday.
Manfred said in a statement that the move was the result of "constructive conversations" between the league and Indians chief executive and chairman Paul Dolan over the past year.
"Major League Baseball is committed to building a culture of diversity and inclusion throughout the game," Manfred said in the statement. "Over the past year, we encouraged dialogue with the Indians organization about the club’s use of the Chief Wahoo logo.
"During our constructive conversations, Paul Dolan made clear that there are fans who have a longstanding attachment to the logo and its place in the history of the team. Nonetheless, the club 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 acknowledgement that removing it from the on-field uniform by the start of the 2019 season is the right course."
Chief Wahoo is a caricature of a Native American; The organization has used iteration of it or another since the late 1940s.
While the logo will not appear on uniforms during games, the Indians wrote in a Q&A on their web site that merchandise with Chief Wahoo will still be sold at their team store and retail outlets in Ohio. The team wrote that this "will maintain the Indians' ownership of the trademark as well, which we would risk losing to another organization if we ceased all use."
"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."
The Indians' team name will not be changed, according to the organization, which cites "support from MLB" behind that decision. Cleveland added it will use its "block C" logo as its primary mark moving forward.
Chief Wahoo has long been the subject of public scrutiny, with critics claiming that the grinning red-faced logo is offensive to the Native American community.
Dennis Brown became an accidental leader in the anti-chief movement in 2014 when he meticulously unstitched the Chief Wahoo emblem on the sleeve of his Cleveland Indians jersey a night before leaving to visit their spring training camp. He had “de-chiefed” the jersey — his term of art — and he tweeted a picture of the ghostly outline left behind. Though he had few followers and meant it for his friends, the picture caught on online with re-tweets and inspired a grassroots movement as thousands used the hashtag #DeChief.
Brown said Monday that it’s “about time” that the logo go, though he expressed disappointment that the team will wear it for another season.
“I would have just ripped off the Band-Aid,” Brown said. “But, then, I would have done that three or four years ago.”
Brown, who grew up in the Cleveland suburbs and works in marketing in Columbus, said he’ll wear his de-chiefed jersey to training camp again this spring. “I’m glad the commissioner got involved,” he said.
One Canadian man of Native American ancestry, Douglas Cardinal, even sought to block the team from displaying the logo — and team name — when it played in Toronto, claiming in court that they amount to discrimination.
"That logo is really outrageous and racist and offensive to all of our native cultures," Cardinal told USA TODAY Sports in June. "It is about time that people who have been here thousands of years, living in harmony with the land, be able to have their rights recognized. It doesn’t help when they have these images perpetuate racism and ridicule."
A league spokesperson told USA TODAY Sports in April that Manfred wanted to see the Indians "transition away" from the Chief Wahoo logo. Manfred called the logo "problematic" in October and said he would revisit the issue this offseason.
Several universities have changed the logos or nicknames of their athletic teams in recent years, and the Indians are not the only professional sports franchise to draw scrutiny.
“The Cleveland baseball team has rightly recognized that Native Americans do not deserve to be denigrated as cartoon mascots, and the team’s move is a reflection of a grassroots movement that has pressed sports franchises to respect Native people,” Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said in a statement. He is a leader of the Change the Mascot campaign against the team name of the Washington NFL club.
“Cleveland’s decision should finally compel the Washington football team to make the same honorable decision,” Halbritter’s statement said. “For too long, people of color have been stereotyped with these kinds of hurtful symbols — and no symbol is more hurtful than the football team in the nation’s capital using a dictionary-defined racial slur as its team name.”
The NFL's Washington Redskins have faced longstanding pressure to change their team name, which critics cite as offensive to Native Americans. Though owner Daniel Snyder said in 2013 that he will "never change the name of the team," advocates fought unsuccessfully to invalidate the team's federal trademarks on the grounds that the name is "disparaging."
Contributing: Erik Brady
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