The United States’ oldest and largest Native American organization has requested a meeting with Major League Baseball and the Cleveland Indians to discuss the team’s controversial Chief Wahoo logo.
The logo, a red-faced cartoon caricature that many Native Americans have fought to change for decades, began attracting increased public scrutiny last month as Cleveland advanced toward its first World Series appearance since 1997. Last week, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said that he plans to meet with Cleveland owner Paul Dolan about the issue once the season ends.
On Friday, the National Congress of American Indians sent a letter to Manfred to ask that he include members of the Native American community in meetings about the logo too.
“I am writing to request a meeting with you to discuss the offensive imagery and cultural misappropriation conveyed by the use of the ‘Chief Wahoo’ mascot and team name by the Cleveland franchise and its fans,” Jacqueline Pata, NCAI’s executive director, wrote in the letter addressed to Manfred last week.
NCAI has opposed the use of Native American mascots in sports since 1968, according to the letter, because they foster stereotypes that have damaging sociological and psychological effects on Native communities. In 1993, the organization adopted a formal resolution calling on teams at the high school, collegiate and professional levels to change them. In 2001, it poked at the Chief Wahoo logo in a poster that compared it to other hypothetical offensive stereotypes.
Cleveland began slowly phasing out the logo in 2009, when it first removed Chief Wahoo from its road batting helmets. It didn’t include the logo on signage at its new Arizona spring training facility when it opened that same year, and quit wearing Chief Wahoo on road caps in 2011 and home batting helmets in 2013. Before the 2016 season, Cleveland officially changed its primary logo to a “Block C,” though Chief Wahoo has remained a part of home and alternate uniforms throughout.
But the logo returned to prominence again during the postseason, especially as the team wore its Chief Wahoo-adorned caps during each of its first five playoff games. It has worn the same caps during each game of the World Series so far. Cleveland fans’ practice of dressing in feathered headdresses and red-face at World Series games has also attracted more attention to the logo’s most offensive aspects.
The opposition grew loud enough that Manfred discussed it multiple times during the beginning of the series.
“I know that that particular logo is offensive to some people, and all of us at Major League Baseball understand why,” Manfred said at an event in Cleveland last week. “Logos are, however, primarily a local matter. The local club makes decisions about its logos. Fans get attached to logos. They become part of a team’s history. So it’s not easy as coming to the conclusion and realizing that the logo is offensive to some segment.”
Pata told The Huffington Post on Tuesday that the logo’s re-emergence ahead of the World Series, and the increased criticism aimed at it, necessitates a conversation involving the league, the team and Native American leaders.
“I’m hopeful that it will be a helpful conversation,” Pata said. “I’m not sure where we’ll get, but we need to have the conversation. We do believe it’s important to initiate this dialogue, and we think the time is right to do that.”
An MLB spokesperson said the league had no comment beyond what Manfred has already said at the World Series.
NCAI has taken on professional sports teams before. In 2013, alongside the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, the organization formed the Change The Mascot campaign to organize against the Washington NFL team’s continued use of its “Redskins” nickname. After the campaign ran radio ads and organized protests against the name, officials from NCAI were part of a 2014 meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and then-Washington team president Bruce Allen to discuss the issue.
The meeting with NFL and Washington team officials had little effect. The team still uses “Redskins” and has shown no willingness to change.
Manfred said last week that any decision over Chief Wahoo’s future would ultimately fall to the Cleveland franchise. In the letter, though, Pata called on Manfred to take the sort of stand Goodell and the NFL have not.
“NCAI is encouraged that you, Commissioner Manfred, want to initiate a dialogue to discuss the next steps for addressing the Cleveland team’s mascot and name, as well as the harmful effects that Native people experience when they are stereotyped in professional sports,” the letter said. “We applaud your leadership on this issue and look forward to Major League Baseball addressing this in a way that can be seen as a model for all professional sports leagues and franchises across America.”