Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

Grinning red “Indian” caricature Chief Wahoo will no longer represent the Cleveland Indians baseball team, who have chosen to acquiesce to decades of complaints from people who called Wahoo “racist” or “inappropriate.”

Team ownership had been steadfast in not bowing to the criticism and calls for a change, but the shift came after a long exchange between Indians owner Paul Dolan and baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. While the change is assured, it won’t take place until the 2019 season, a compromise that some say is not soon enough.

After the announcement was made, Manfred issued a statement to the media which said, in part: “Major League Baseball is committed to building a culture of diversity and inclusion throughout the game … (Chief Wahoo) is no longer appropriate for on-field use.”

There’s a bit in there that telegraphs something which may cause some controversy. While the Indians will be pulling Wahoo off their “on-field” uniforms in 2019, fans will still be able to buy Indians memorabilia featuring the grinning mascot. While some are bristling at this exception, other opponents of Wahoo said they’re happy with the decision. The Associated Press reported Philip Yenyo, executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, saying he was “elated” about the decision, though not necessarily with the timing of the change.

“I think it should be this year. I don’t understand why they’re drawing this out. It doesn’t make any sense to me unless they want to continue to make what’s basically blood money … Just make the leap already … you’re still going to have fans going down there wearing headdresses and painted in red face.”

For their part, Cleveland says the change is necessarily gradual. The club has been quietly removing images of Chief Wahoo from around the stadium and on some player gear.

Ironically, the real pressure to do something about the mascot stemmed from incredible success. Just as Cleveland and the team’s fans were riding high on a trip to the World Series, the added attention upset many, causing the volume of demands calling for Wahoo’s removal to become much longer and louder than it had been before.

Shortly after the Series, the hubbub died down somewhat. Then the Indians won the right to host the 2019 All-Star Game, and the calls for Wahoo’s removal began again in earnest. That put Dolan back in talks with the league office, after which he issued this statement:

“While we recognize many of our fans have a longstanding attachment to Chief Wahoo, I’m ultimately in agreement with Commissioner Manfred’s desire to remove the logo from our uniforms in 2019 …”


Ronn Torossian is CEO of NY PR Firm 5WPR.