The Case for Chief Wahoo (Revisited)
Updated: Dec 21, 2022
When I was a teen, my Mother always tried to encourage me to write, so one day I was watching the news, must've been Opening Day of Cleveland Indians baseball in 1987, and I saw the story of the Native Americans protesting the use of Chief Wahoo on Indians gear on the local news. A group of, maybe, 6 to 10 people. As a diehard Indians fan, I was inspired to write my first letter to the editor to the Cleveland Plain Dealer defending the use of Chief Wahoo. They declined to publish the missive from a suburban teen nobody.
So 30 years later, I'm not sorry I wrote that article. As a matter of fact I want to expand on it. The gist of the article by Young Fred was there were mascots offensive to everyone.
The Fighting Irish were negative stereotypes of drunken Irishmen.
The Vikings were negative stereotype of angry Scandinavians.
The Celtics were another negative Irish caricature. I think I named 15 examples, then used the absurd example of "what happens if there's a spike in fatal bear maulings, do we change the name of the Chicago Bears?"
The reason I bring this up is because this past weekend, a young man from my hometown, about the same age as me when I wrote the PD all those years ago, was a guest writer on the Plain Dealer's digital platform and wrote an article entitled Even Those Who've Loved Chief Wahoo since Childhood have to Let it Go. Now part of me is jealous because the PD ignored me all those years ago and then promoted basically a younger version of me with the 180 degree opposite opinion. The writer's resume was as thin and flimsy as mine as a teen, but then I remembered, "screw the PD, I have my own platform."
Every single year the local media promotes the narrative that it's time to ban Chief Wahoo. Then advances the agenda that the image is racist and the majority of correct-thinking individuals want the caricature changed. I oppose the change based on the issue of free speech which I will expound on in a few minutes, but first let me tell you a hurtful true story from my past just to illustrate a point...
I was not the best looking young man in high school and didn't date much. As a matter of fact, numerous unrelated people would ask me if I knew that I looked like Butthead from the Beavis and Butthead show. If one person says it, they are a jerk. If a half dozen people ask, it's probably true. True or not, it kept happening. I didn't like being compared to an obnoxious teen Lackabout, but what was my response to a cartoon character? Basically nothing.
Did I boycott MTV? No.
Did I demand Beavis and Butthead be removed from the air? No.
Did I write angry letters to Mike Judge? No.
The argument I hear most for banning Chief Wahoo is "How would you like it if the team was the Cleveland Caucasians? Wouldn't you be offended if there was a dopey, grinning white guy as their mascot? How would you like being a caricature based on your race?"
And this is where the Beavis and Butthead analogy comes in. They weren't just cartoon characters, they hit a chord because they were caricatures of stupid white teenagers found in almost every city across America. Well those in favor of banning Chief Wahoo would say there's a big difference between Butthead and the Chief, the Chief is a logo.
Okay, but when you think of the Buccaneers, or the Pirates, or the Raiders, the caricatures all allude to whites. Do you think of Asians when you think of the Raiders? Or Indians when you think of the Pirates? Or Blacks when you think of the Buccaneers based on the illustrations of those logos? No you don't.
Now those who disagree are now screaming at the computer, but they allude to the fact that those are whites, there are no teams called the whites. Let me ask you another question, a generation ago kids played Cowboys and Indians. Now I've heard lots of whites being called Cowboys in a derogatory manner. Use it in a sentence, you say? Slow it down there, cowboy. Or, where's the rush, cowboy? I've never heard a minority called a cowboy before. Don't forget, the emblem of the Cowboys wasn't always the star, it used to be a real Cowboy, but it wasn't that popular.
Chief Wahoo is popular. He's been popular for 80 years. The emblem has basically been the same for 50 years. The Chief hasn't changed, but people have. The argument is that the modern times are different, and yes, that part I agree with. Political Correctness has spawned a movement of banning things we don't like. Once there is a narrative that something is offensive, it needs to be banned. The reason I feel so strongly about Chief Wahoo is because he is a fairly innocuous example of the free speech battle. I like Chief Wahoo. I wore an Indians jersey with him on it for Beacon of Speech #46, but he represents free speech. No one lives or dies based on whether he exists or not. Lots of other free speech issues don't have the same luxury of being of a frivolous nature. We are talking about whether a fictional sports character is racist!?!
"If it's so innocuous then, just ban it." Okay fair enough. Then I get to ban something of yours that I don't like. I choose Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse is a symbol of corporate greed.
No matter what your opinion is on Chief Wahoo is, think about this as we close, do you know how long the list would be of things that should be banned if we based it on things we didn't like?