Tensions run high as Chief Wahoo debate continues at Indians home opener

Big League Stew

Months after the Cleveland Indians and Major League Baseball announced Chief Wahoo’s likeness will be removed from the team’s uniform following the 2018 season, the controversial logo remained a central focus on opening day at Progressive Field. Protestors and supporters alike made their feelings known, leading to a refueling of tensions that have been growing for several years.

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It’s almost the new normal on opening day in Cleveland. Protests have become a tradition as more fans have joined the push for Chief Wahoo to be removed.

Many of the protestors believe the Native American caricature is racist and therefore not appropriate to be displayed. Despite the Indians and MLB finally agreeing with them, protestors who arrived before the Indians home opener against the Kansas City Royals believe the issue has not yet been addressed properly. The bulk of their discontent stemming from the team continuing to profit financially by selling merchandise featuring Wahoo’s likeness.

As protestors chants of “change the name, change the logo!” echoed outside Progressive Field, they were surrounded by many examples that supported their call for Chief Wahoo to be completely removed from the franchise’s branding.

Cleveland.com’s Emily Bamforth notes the majority of fans lined up outside the ballpark had Chief Wahoo logos on their hats, shirts, jackets and other attire. That much is to be expected. A logo that’s existed for several decades isn’t going to disappear overnight. That Progressive Field stores will reportedly continue selling Wahoo merchandise even after the team discontinues use of the logo next season, is considered the bigger issue.  

“They still want to keep hold of what they consider as their traditions and their history and they’re not realizing that their history is basically a history of oppression,” Philip Yenyo, executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, told the Associated Press. “I did say previously that it’s a step in the right direction, but to continue selling this merchandise is like saying, ‘OK we realize it’s wrong, but we’re still going to make money on this.’


Some believe the Chief Wahoo logo is in higher demand now than ever before because of the focus that’s been placed on it. That might explain the Indians reluctance to completely separate from the logo.

Fans protest Chief Wahoo before the Cleveland Indians 2018 home opener against the Kansas City Royals. (AP)
Fans protest Chief Wahoo before the Cleveland Indians 2018 home opener against the Kansas City Royals. (AP)

While not every fan who wears the logo is rallying to support its continued use, there were no shortage of people subscribing to “love live the chief.” Many fans still see Chief Wahoo as a representation of Cleveland and a symbol of pride in the ballclub.

Unfortunately, some people took their “support” too far by unleashing a series of insults and racial slurs directed at Native Americans. Cleveland.com captured video of some of those instances. You can view the video here, though we warn you that viewer discretion is advised.

Philip Yenyo, the executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, was concerned that Friday’s tension could turn violent. Fortunately, there have been no reports of that being the case. However, Friday’s events serve as a reminder that the Chief Wahoo debate is not one that will go away quickly or quietly.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Yahoo Sports Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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