Recently, on a trip to Arizona, I packed my usual Clevelander wardrobe: everything Cavaliers, Browns and Indians. Like any average day, I wore my Jim Thome jersey. Later that same day, the symbolism on my wardrobe choice became painfully apparent to me. While in Arizona, a state with one of the largest Native American populations in the country, I was wearing a racist caricature on my sleeve. For each stranger that saw me that day, I was horrified to think that the individual would connect the blatant racism of the Chief Wahoo character to myself and to Cleveland.
With tomorrow’s official announcement of Cleveland’s Progressive Field hosting the 2019 Major League Baseball All-Star game, we will once again have the opportunity to showcase our city. This incredible opportunity for Cleveland comes on the heels of a banner year in which the city that gained national praise from around the world. These positive sentiments continued until the Cleveland Indians participated in the 2016 World Series.
As a season ticket holder, I have grown up inside of the walls of Progressive Field. In Section 113 of right field, alongside my father, I learned the lessons of patience, humility, defeat and pure joy watching countless games. So last October when the Indians were thrust onto the national stage, playing in the World Series for the first time since I was six months old, I was ecstatic. Finally, after years of pain and loss, our city was at the center of the sports world. But during the Fall Classic, the national discussion wasn’t about the development of our young American League Champions or the revival of downtown, it was about this:
Countless articles and tweets of fans donning red faces and celebrating Chief Wahoo, the outdated and racist logo of my favorite team flooded the internet. This expression of fandom is not only offensive, it is a pathetic and disappointing representation of the character of Cleveland. While many say that these are isolated incidents, the reality is that wearing Chief Wahoo on clothing is not all that different than donning red-face at a Tribe game.
By not removing Chief Wahoo from the Cleveland Indians Organization, we are enabling and even encouraging this behavior. Even without “red-face” at games, this embarrassment for our city extends past the ballpark.
The identity of Cleveland, Ohio is built on a celebration of diversity, not the logo of a sports team. Our identity is build on Larry Doby, the first African American player in the American League, and on Frank Robinson, the first African American manager in Major League Baseball. We take pride in the accomplishments of these great men as it still guides the Indians Organization in their work today. To fully embrace the heritage of our franchise and city, we must get rid of Chief Wahoo. I want to be able to walk anywhere and feel nothing but pride for the team I’ve cheered for since birth. Exploiting a stereotype for nostalgia’s sake is unacceptable.
We must demand that the Cleveland Indians Organization announce a full removal its association with Chief Wahoo before the 2019 MLB All-Star Game. Major League Baseball’s celebration of its brightest stars in the ‘Midsummer Classic’ should not be marred by the inclusion of Chief Wahoo.