I remember in 1991 when the Atlanta Braves made the playoffs for the first time in nine years. My family would go tailgate at Fulton County Stadium, and that was the first place I encountered protests against the Braves by American Indian activists.
These protests against sports teams using Indians as mascots rear their ugly heads from time to time, and this year, they’ve been able to claim a scalp. (Too obvious?) The Cleveland Indians will stop using their seven-decade old Chief Wahoo mascot on team uniforms and stadium signage next year.
MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred has pressured the team to get rid of the cartoon logo for at least a year, and in a remarkably arrogant press release, he said that the Indians “ultimately agreed with my position that the logo is no longer appropriate for on-field use in Major League Baseball.”
Naturally, Indian activists are happy with the decision, but not so much with the year’s delay:
Phillip Yenyo, the executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, cheered the decision as, “another step in the right direction,” but lamented that it is being put off for a year.
“Why wait?” he said. “If you are going to go this far and get rid of it, why not do it now? All they are doing is testing it out, because the name has to go, too. The nickname absolutely has to go. It’s not just the logo.”
This isn’t a sudden thing; the Cleveland Indians have minimized the logo on uniforms and throughout the apparently aptly named Progressive Field in recent years, but Chief Wahoo, who first appeared as the Indians mascot in 1948, will still be available on merchandise at the stadium and in stores throughout the area – but not online.
Some activists would like to see the team go so far as to get rid of the Indians nickname altogether. Moves like this toward other teams have met with mixed results: some colleges have changed their team names to move away from American Indian stereotypes, while the Washington Redskins have dug their heels in, citing the support of run-of-the-mill Native Americans.
The question remains: how far will the American Indian lobby go to put a stop to Indian mascots – even relatively benign ones? I guess we’ll see how far they push teams like Cleveland; now that the Indians have given an inch, will the activists only settle for a mile?