Changing a sports team’s logo is a pretty simple task. All it takes is a bucketload of money, as the Minnesota Timberwolves showed last night as part of the team’s plan to wipe away the stench of bad basketball.
Wiping away the stench of racism, however, continues to befuddle the sports world and the people who run the leagues, particularly baseball and football.
If there’s a logo worth talking about today, it’s this one: “Chief Wahoo”, the utterly indefensible logo of the Cleveland Indians, which the team’s fans have embraced as historical. Historical like a Woolworth’s lunch counter.
Today, the New York Times reports that baseball is almost-but-not-quite ready to do something about it.
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.’’
Although Manfred had previously acknowledged a willingness to engage in talks with the Indians about the logo, Courtney’s statement appears to be the first time that Manfred is identified as having staked out a clear position on the issue.
It is an issue, however, that may not be that easy to resolve. Although many people, including baseball fans around the country, would welcome the removal of Chief Wahoo, there is a significant segment of the Indians’ fan base that still cherishes the logo, which has existed in various forms since 1947.
The reasonable answer a strong baseball commissioner would and should provide the team and fans is obvious: “Too bad.”
But baseball’s commissioner hasn’t been a position of strength for decades.
The focus on the issue usually comes on one day of the year in baseball: opening day in Cleveland. That was yesterday. And, as in years past, the locals played the “what’s the big deal?” card for the national media, which also tends to cover the issue one day a year (unless the Indians make the World Series).
“Chief Wahoo is the Cleveland Indians,” Karen Hale, an Indians fan, told the Times, mirroring the legend that was handed down from generations before. “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.”
And that’s the problem. Cleveland fans are taking a stand. Again.
As in years past, Philip Yenyo, the executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, stood outside Progressive Field to protest the logo and mascot. And, as in years past, fans strolled by and told him to “get over it.”
The team’s approach — accommodating its more racist fans — isn’t working. It tried to replace the logo with this looker a few years ago, hoping that maybe the loyalists either wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care.
Oddly enough, while it’s the “official” logo, it never caught on, and the fans never took the hint. And that’s the thing with racism. It doesn’t go away through hints. Someone has to be willing to make racists angry.
Bob DiBiasio, the Indians’ senior vice president for public affairs, confirmed the team isn’t going to do that, telling the Times the team would rather wait until the end of the season to address the issue, as if that would be the first off-season opportunity the team has had to think about things.
“Our primary focus right now is on the team,’’ he told the Times.
“I think there will be a day, whenever that is, that the people that are making decisions here decide that Chief Wahoo is no longer fitting,” Mark Shapiro, who started the team’s effort to shift away from the mascot a few years ago.
It’s not his problem anymore. He quit more than a year ago to run a team whose mascot is a bird.
Meanwhile, the Times says, the Wahoo survives… and thrives. An apt metaphor for racism in America.