REGGIE HAYES: If sports fans were rational, it’d be easy to let go of Chief Wahoo logo
This will not be a revelation, but it is relevant to explain those upset by the decision of the Cleveland Indians to drop the Chief Wahoo logo: Sports fans aren’t rational.
Older sports fans, especially, aren’t rational.
Baseball fans, by and large, are the oldest sports fans.
Combine all of this and it’s easy to see why the decision to retire Chief Wahoo from team uniforms and caps caused such a stir Monday when it was announced.
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To the rational, the visage of Chief Wahoo plays into some racial stereotypes of Native Americans and, thus, is offensive and ought to be retired in these more racially enlightened times. This would also seem to apply to the NFL’s Washington Redskins, but that name won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, it appears.
To lifelong Cleveland Indians fans (i.e. the irrational), phasing out Chief Wahoo is like taking a childhood memory/connection and dumping it in the trash.
Sports fans don’t like their memories dumped in the trash. Just ask any guy whose mother threw out his baseball card collection that would undoubtedly be worth at least $10K if he still had it today.
The attachment sports fans have to their team, their team’s uniform, their team’s nickname and their team’s logos is visceral. Many Indians fans who embraced Chief Wahoo undoubtedly built their attachment when they were young and oblivious to any interpretation of the logo that wasn’t positive. They associate it with pleasant childhood memories.
Major League Baseball, however, sees the logo through today’s cultural lens and that view – the rational one – says it’s a logo whose time has passed. Indians owner Paul Dolan worked to find a compromise and did so, keeping the logo for 2018, and keeping the rights to the logo with merchandise available to those who want it going forward. Beginning in 2019, it will no longer appear on the Indians’ uniforms. If fans want to wear shirts with the logo, Indians officials won’t try to stop them at games.
“You can’t help but be aware of how many of our fans connected to Chief Wahoo,” Dolan told Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com. “We grew up with it. I remember seeing the little cartoon of The Chief in the paper every day, showing if the Indians won or lost.”
Some have suggested the Indians compromised with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to remove the logo in exchange for hosting the 2019 All-Star Game. Dolan told Cleveland.com that was not the case, and Cleveland would have the game even if the Chief Wahoo logo stayed. It sure helps the relationship between the Indians and the commissioner, however.
There’s an old Jerry Seinfeld joke about how athletes change teams so often, sports fans are really rooting for laundry. It’s the uniform – our team’s uniform – that matters. In that context, it’s easy to understand fans’ dedication to past associations.
Despite the fact Baltimore has the Ravens, and the Ravens have won two Super Bowls, older fans (and younger ones, trained in the family beliefs) will never forgive Indianapolis for taking the “Colts” nickname when the original Baltimore franchise moved. That’s the emotional attachment to a nickname. That’s the emotional attachment to a logo.
That’s why, even confronted by a rational explanation, many Indians fans are upset by the impending loss of Chief Wahoo.
This isn’t about messing with a corporate logo that’s here today, gone tomorrow. This is about messing with memories. Even when it’s the right thing to do, few things are more difficult for a sports fan than letting go of a childhood connection.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.