For the first time in the long-running public debate about the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo logo, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has gone public with his stance — he wants the team to “transition away” from the controversial logo it has used since 1947.
Manfred has met privately with Indians ownership in recent months, particularly after the Indians’ postseason run in 2016 reignited the debate about Wahoo, but never had he or his office spelled out a plan of action or let slip a public opinion.
That changed on Wednesday, with what the New York Times deemed the commish applying “a little bit of pressure on the club to come up with a plan of action.”
In a statement to The New York Times, Pat Courtney, a spokesman for Major League Baseball, said Manfred, in his talks with the Indians’ owners, had made clear his “desire to transition away from the Chief Wahoo logo.”
“We have specific steps in an identified process and are making progress,” Courtney added. “We are confident that a positive resolution will be reached that will be good for the game and the club.”
This will no doubt anger many Indians fans, who look at any public indictment of Chief Wahoo as political correctness run amok. Some fans still come to games at Progressive Field in Native American headdresses and painted red faces. They say it’s part of the fan experience or a way to “honor” Native Americans.
That’s often met with protests outside the stadium. There’s a tradition of local Native American activists protesting outside the stadium at Cleveland’s home opener. That was Tuesday, and the protesters were indeed there. Like they were during the 2016 postseason.
The Times captured the two sides of the debate from Tuesday’s home opener like so:
“Chief Wahoo is the Cleveland Indians,” said Karen Hale, a local Indians fan who was outside the stadium before Tuesday’s game. “I think there comes a time when you have to take a stand for what you believe in. I don’t think it’s hurting anybody.”
Philip Yenyo, the executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, has been protesting at the Indians’ opening day games for years and vehemently disagrees with Hale and others with similar views. He would prefer the team eliminate the logo, and the Indians name as well, but he would be happy for the club to start with the logo.
A protestor outside of the Cleveland Indians' game Tuesday. (AP)
The Indians issued a statement on the matter Wednesday afternoon. Here it is, via MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian:
Here is the statement from the Indians on the ongoing discussions with MLB about the Chief Wahoo logo: pic.twitter.com/2uPD6KQkcx— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) April 12, 2017
The issue as it pertains to MLB’s stance on Chief Wahoo is what “transition away” actually means. The Indians have in fact been “transitioning away” from Chief Wahoo for a few years. In 2014, the Indians officially made the Block C their primary logo rather than Chief Wahoo. Despite that, the Indians have still worn the Chief Wahoo logo on their caps and uniforms as a secondary logo.
Which is to say the transition from the Indians’ side has been slow.
The Indians have seemed content over the past few years to appease both sides of the debate — keeping Wahoo visible while de-emphasizing his importance as the “primary” logo. Sounds like that might not fly with Manfred anymore, though. If MLB’s hope is to pressure the Indians into making a change, the entire Chief Wahoo debate could get uglier before it finds any resolution.