Redskins Taken to Court, is Chief Wahoo Next?

sick_wahoo_smallWith TMZ reporting today that the Washington Redskins may soon find themselves getting a ruling from the United States supreme court regarding defamation of race, I cannot help but wonder what sort of watershed event this could be for other teams throughout sports.  Being a fan of Cleveland teams, the one that obviously jumps out is the mascot of the Cleveland Indians, Chief Wahoo.

The team has slowly started to migrate away from Wahoo, despite the constant reminders that it is not phasing him out.  Consider it more of an introductory phase of other logos, says Paul Dolan.  And while Wahoo is still (proudly?) displayed in Winter Haven, Florida – mostly due to cost reasons, the new spring training facility in Goodyear, Arizona is littered with the script letter “I” that can be found on alternative jersey hats and soft pretzels alike.

When the Indians found themselves one game away from the World Series in 2007, they also found themselves in the spotlight once again thanks to facepaint and things of that ilk.  Surely, there are more socially acceptable ways to enjoy a game than with redface but I would say the same if one of the bird-related teams had fans that were painting beaks on to their mugs.  And while a bad season has slowly quieted those that complain for the sake of complaining, a Supreme Court case could quickly escalate the situation all over again. 

I realize that simply because something does not offend me personally (as very, very few things do), that does not make it right.  However, the fan in me has a hard time letting go of a nostalgic piece of what the Indians have provided me through the last 20-odd years.  Sure, the teeth may be a bit much – and the older Chief Wahoo that was more orange than red is even worse – but its only a logo. 

I honestly feel that the team still embraces Wahoo as Dolan mentions.  After all, the most recent blanket giveaway featured each and every one of the past Chief Wahoos even dating back to the ones that looked more like cave drawings than baseball logos.  However, there is no denying that the last thing that this poor-at-best baseball team needs is more negative publicity over something that they can control without having to increase their precious payroll.  If it came down to it, Wahoo could be cast away quicker than Fausto Carmona’s last start.

I’ll be anxiously awaiting the results of the Redskins case, and I’m sure I won’t be alone.  But for now, I fear the final days of the Good Chief.

(h/t JQP)

  • steve

    its not going to happen via the legal system, I know that much.

    Whether you think its racist or not I’m pretty sure its protected by the first amendment.

    The only way it would change would be some kind of fan boycott or protests.

    I could be wrong though, but I don’t think its possible to force someone else to change their corporate name via their trademarks based on the fact that it might or might not be racist.

    It could be possible but I would think the case would be extremely hard to argue.

  • MrCleaveland

    I would be surprised if the Redskins lose this case. Just because something offends someone does not make it unconstitutional or illegal. Ever since “freedom of speech” morphed into “freedom of expression,” lots of offensive things became permissible, such as burning the U.S. flag. There are plenty of other offensive things that are legal, such as soaking a Crucifix in urine and rap lyrics. Also, “defamation of race” sounds like a pretty shaky legal principle. But we shall see.

  • Chris M

    I’m certainly not a lawyer, but defamation of race? Really? It’s not like they’re the Florida State Seminoles, which actually does name a race. Indians, Redskins, and Braves are all a bit non-descript if you ask me, not an actual race.


  • Tron

    I don’t think that Native American group is going to win in court, they’ve already lost a couple suites I think, so I doubt they’re going to win. There’s way too many technicalities, it’s too subjective of a suite as to what offends someone. I think there are plenty of Native Americans not offended one way or the other over things like Chief Wahoo and the Redskins.

    I wonder if Scandinavian people are filing suite against the vikings and their image representation of the Norsemen.

  • steve

    this lawsuit would have a better shot across the pond.

  • ryan

    shouldnt someone in sweden, iceland, or greenland take the minnesota vikings to court too? the indians logo is the best in all of sports in my opinion

  • mike

    the difference here is huge. im hardly a tight-a$$, but the name “redskins” is clearly offensive – even to me, a run of the mill Caucasian. you cannot even begin to compare that to “indians,” “braves” or “vikings.” “redskins” is such a blatantly derogatory name for american indians, i think anyone who defends it comes across as just an ignorant idiot. it would be akin to a name like the SF yellowskins or the NYC Blackskins. give me a break.

  • mike

    also – not all speech is protected by the first amendment. for example, defamatory speech would not be protected under the first amendment. if the court determines that the redskins name is in fact defamatory, then it should not be a type of speech protectable under the first amendment.

  • DP Diesel

    @#7 – while I’ll stop short of where you’re at, I can see your point. St. John’s and Miami Universities would agree, seeing as how they used to be the “Red Men” and “Redskins” respectively, and are now the “Red Storm” and “Red Hawks” respectively.

  • Scott

    Parma High School is the Red Men, if my memory serves me right… I wonder how far down the chain this goes.

  • Tron

    Mike not sure everyone agrees on it being a completely ignorant racist term. Not sure if you know but they actually tried to pass a bill in California to ban all schools from using the term Redskin as a mascot, and the bill was fiercely protested by several native american tribes, who took schools using the mascot redskin as a compliment and viewed it as a sense of pride because respect was being paid to their warrior heritage. The group suing washington doesn’t necessarily represent all native americans.

  • mike

    fair enough. we can agree to disagree. to me, redskins is a pretty racist term. i would like to point out that many defend it by stating that only X% of native americans are or are not offended, so therefore it is not racist. in my opinion, if any true native americans are truly offended then it is an offensive term. just because it might only be 20% that are offended does not make it any less wrong.

    the ironic part of the St John’s name change was the “red men” had nothing to do with american indians but was a reference to the school’s traditional red colored uniforms for sports. however, many in the public interpreted red men as being a native American reference so they changed it.

  • Robbie

    The Indians should get rid of the logo, the same way the Braves got rid of their “laughing/shouting indian-guy” logo. This is an instant when being politically correct wouldn’t be a bad thing. This argument of “Irish people being upset about the Celtics logo” and “Scandinavian people being upset about the Vikings logo” are not even in the same… ballpark, sorry. These “Indians”, the indigenous people of this land, were robbed, murdered, removed and basically wiped-out in order to make room for us. While I realize I can’t really complain about it, seriously, because this is my home now, I can at least not flaunt it in some painful way with a mascot of some red-faced, cheesing, feather-in-the-headband Chief Wahoo. The Irish and Scandinavian argument is BS. A closer argument would in fact be the Cleveland Negros with some black-faced sambo mascot. I understand that the whole political correct movement has gone a little bit overboard in this country, but this isn’t one of those examples. If I was an “indian” in this country, I’d be pretty pissed-off myself. I would prefer that the team I’m a fan of would retire Chief Wahoo and any similar mascot. The name of the franchise can’t realistically be changed, but the mascot can go.

  • Jay

    Scott – It still is. It brings up a good point about high schools using “racist” or “derogatory” names as their mascots. I graduated from Cuyahoga Heights, our mascot – Redskins. Then there’s the Berea Braves, Villa-Angela St. Joseph Vikings, and Lebrons own St. Vincent/St. Mary Irish could even be deemed defamating.

  • David

    I doubt anyone really believes this case can be won. I would wager it’s more about the publicity and the hope that perhaps enough peer pressure will force the Redskins to make a change.

  • Denny

    @ David – I think people just don’t like Danny Snyder.

  • Tron

    Technically “Indians” doesn’t even really apply to Native Americans as a racist term, since the colonials that landed here thought they were in India, what else were they suppose to call them?

  • Matt#2

    Whether it is offensive may not be where the war is. The Redskins’ problem, I believe, will arise from an argument that the team is a de facto monopoly or public property (It is not as though one may start a new NFL team in whatever city he pleases (though one may move his team, ahem)), which would generally be subject to heavy regulation, and which may give the impression, then, of having a government seal. (In some cities, sin tax pays for stadiums.) If the Court becomes convinced that the name of a local NFL team is, thus, tantamount to government speech, the Redskins may be in for a change. The Court does not, however, seem comprised of people likely to lean that way.

  • AcrossTheField11

    People need to stop being so GD sensitive and get a life. IF YOU ARE NOT OF NATIVE AMERICAN DECENT THEN YOU HAVE NO REASON TO BE OFFENDED, ERGO YOU HAVE NO REASON TO COMPLAIN. Find something more productive to do. If you are of Native American decent and are offended, well, too bad cause I’m gonna wear my Wahoo hat proudly until the day I die. The logo’s “painful”… give me an effing break.

  • Doracle

    Kudos on a very thoughtful post, Scott. Whatever side of the fence you land on, it’s really easy to get worked up over the issue. It’s refreshing to read something that doesn’t come across as completely reflexive.

    For what it’s worth, I spent my college years in a small college out on the Great Plains that had a large Native American population. At the time, I had a bunch of Indians gear that I wore proudly, not really realizing (or caring, frankly) that it could be seen as offensive. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well in certain circles. I got plenty of dirty looks, even if few people said anything to me. Eventually one of the professors whom I was close to took me aside and said that he “felt embarrassed for me” about my unfortunate choice in clothing.

    Now, I don’t come down that strongly on the issue. I can understand the Native Americans being upset — I mean, come on, when you think about it I really was going around wearing a little racist caricature on my clothes, and I can see how that could offend the group being caricatured.

    Now I don’t think that anyone means to be racist when they wear Chief Wahoo, and I don’t judge them for it. It’s a personal decision, and just because I choose not to wear Chief Wahoo doesn’t mean that I will vilify those who do. It’s tradition. It’s a symbol of civic pride. I’m pretty sure that nobody looks at it and says to themselves, “haha, Indians are so silly with their red skin and giant noses,” etc.

    I will come down firmly against anyone who claims that all the people wearing Chief Wahoo are secretly racist, or any such nonsense. It’s patently false. That said, I still think that the mascot is insensitive. I still think that it should be voluntarily abolished over time.

    Look, context matters. A logo with a caricatured Native American IS different in many ways than a logo with a caricatured Viking. I am hardly a wild-eyed multiculturalist, and I think that oftentimes multiculturalism is, to put it indelicately, stupid. But still — you can’t really deny that the Native Americans got a pretty raw deal. Trail of Tears, smallpox blankets, etc., etc. We did some awful things to Native Americans. I don’t get worked up about it the way some people do, because hey, pretty much every nation has some pretty serious skeletons in its closet, and hey, it’s not like the perceived sins of Andrew Jackson really have anything to do with the here and now.

    I still think it is pretty willfully ignorant to play the whole Chief Wahoo = Minnesota Vikings logo card. And if we want to play the awful analogies game, I can just point to a hypothetical Black Sambo logo, and people going to the game in blackface. Is this better, worse, even pertinent at all? The two would be different situations.

    I don’t get worked up over the issue, because there are plenty of serious things in the world far worse than a silly, outdated logo. Heck, I think that Native Americans should have far more pressing issues than Chief Wahoo. That said, I found that going to a school with close to a 10% Native American population, I felt like a complete idiot wearing around my Wahoo gear. The people who were caricatured were right in front of me, and I felt offensive. I stopped wearing my Wahoo gear, and carried this habit back to Ohio with me.

    Again, I won’t judge anyone who wears Wahoo, because I know that nobody means any harm — but really, I wish that we could just bury the Chief and get back to focusing on awful, awful baseball.

  • Charlie

    The Indians should go back to the Spiders. There’s no difference between us and the Redskins. After all, our logo has bright red skin.

    It’s hard to make a case for keeping our name/mascot. And bear in mind, “history” and “tradition” don’t count as legitimate reasons. The past is riddled with embarrassment and ignorance and should not be romanticized.

    And as Tron eluded to, our logo depicts a Native American and we’re named after the people of India. That makes sense.

  • dgriff13

    heh, my company makes those “I” pretzels. IMO, some things are apart of history and are tradition.. and should be respected as much. Regardless if that Louis Sockalexis story is true or not.

  • Charlie

    And congrats to AcrossTheField11 for excelling in ignorance and stupidity! Way to express your point in all caps without giving a shred of reasoning or thought, just pure “dude logic.” Keep up the horrible work!

  • Andrew S

    First things first, the group has only petitioned the Supreme Court to review it, something they have done before. The last time the Supreme Court basically told them to go away (denying to hear the claim because they waited to long) and I imagine that will happen again. If they do hear it the Redskins and Tribe could be in trouble though.

    The NCAA tried to be proactive a few years back and ban all Native American related college mascots. Certain schools (Florida State and Central Michigan) were able to get around it because they could show that they worked with the Tribes and accurately portrayed their heritage. While that was strictly an NCAA ruling, the Court may look at that as persuasive, which would screw over the Indians more than any team since there are no other teams who have a logo that would be deemed as offensive as Chief Wahoo (the Redskins logo is generic but slightly more accurate than ours).

  • jcm

    I find Chief Wahoo offensive and embarrassing. I own lots of Indians, but I can’t remember the last time I bought one with Chief Wahoo on it. He’s like a Native American version of Little Black Sambo.

  • Rob

    Agree with #7 on the term “Redskins.” They shouldn’t be made to change, but it is in rather poor taste. As for the term “Indians,” that is one rather slightly less offensive and a testament to the boorish Europeans that got lost depending on how you look at it.

    Also, if you examine the etymology of the nickname “Indians,” it’s unknown, but it seems it may very well have been inspired by a Native American that put a dent into baseball’s color barrier in Cleveland and dealt with similar taunts and harrassment, years before Jackie Robinson broke it in Brooklyn.

  • jcm

    Oh man. I meant I own lots of Indians *gear*. I’d like to state for the record that I do not, in fact, own any Indians.

  • Andrew S

    Im assuming you meant you own a lot of Indians stuff, apparel, hats even….

  • Andrew S

    haha good save

  • Scott

    So we don’t have readers that own actual Indians?

  • MrCleaveland

    In the end, if it wasn’t for “Indians” and “Redskins” etc., who would ever even think about Native Americans?

    No one, that’s who.

    It’s the only publicity they ever get.

    So if they want to make some noise, I’ll give them that.

  • Rick

    Wait, how can we be 31 comments into this discussion and haven’t heard from Frowns yet?

  • cursedclevelanddotcom

    After all, the most recent blanket giveaway featured each and every one of the past Chief Wahoos

    Referencing the weapons our country used against Native Americans in a piece about potentially offending Native Americans is offensive to Native Americans!

    Not really.

  • crazycav

    The Indians were named in HONOR of an Indian. How is this offensive? This is nothing more than people with too much time on their hands. Get a freaking life.

  • Dave

    To prevent these issues from cropping up, I propose renaming Cleveland’s team to the Cleveland Crackers, with a mascot of the Burger King (who is held up as the great leader of white people). And if you find that just a tad offensive, now you have some idea how the various American Indian folks around town feel about it.

  • Devin

    The irony of this, is that one of the most offensive Chief Wahoo logos (arguably) is displayed on the banner of this website.

  • feel

    I love how vehement all the comments for keeping the logo are, vs. how well articulated all the arguments are for phasing it out.

  • Painesville

    #30 – Scott – I own a few Indians. But they’re from India and they help me with my computer and health issues. And for the record they are NOT offended by the logo itself, but instead by the Indian’s poor display of “cricket”.

  • Denny

    Lordy, lordy – you got me a hootin and hollerin with that one Painsville. Well done.

  • RockKing

    Who would really be offended by the Indians being renamed the Crackers? I would think that would be hilarious.

  • Scott

    “The irony of this, is that one of the most offensive Chief Wahoo logos (arguably) is displayed on the banner of this website.”

    What about that is “ironic?”

  • Scott

    and I’m surprised no one thus far nominated “Steamers” given the recent play…

  • steve

    i’m pretty sure a hypothetical cleveland steamers logo would have less problems.

  • paulbip

    Change it to the Cleveland Jews.

  • chuck

    Cleveland should consider going back to the logo they used from 1929-32, which is an Indian with a full head dress. Much classier.

  • zeppelin1

    lightenup its a cartoon character! how about seagulls or sliders?

  • Janet

    What a bunch of wahoo!!!!!

  • Jodi

    Can you hear my deep sigh from north of the border here in Canada? I work in a high school on an Indian reservation (here was call the First Nations not Indians). We’re discussing the issue of Native mascots and team names.

    I find it interesting that we as (mostly?) white people who just don’t get it, are the voice here.

    We are reviewing the double standard since, as mentioned, it would NEVER be accepted to call a mascot Mr. Ni**er and, let’s face it, “wahoo” is comparable — no matter HOW long that mascot or team name had been around.

    In Canada subtle racism is still racism no matter how you cut it. It’s a deplorable mascot. He needs to go, no matter how many angry rich white people make a stink. It’s no good.