"Chief Wahoo" Managing To Combine Hidebound Racism With Bad Business

Even MLB is starting to make noise about avoiding it's own "Washington Football Team" situation.
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This week in laughable nonsense, we have a statement from Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney to The New York Times about commissioner Rob Manfred’s desire for the Cleveland franchise to drop the ludicrously racist caricature that somehow continues to serve as their logo.

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“(Manfred has made clear his) desire to transition away from the Chief Wahoo logo,” Courtney’s statement said. “We have specific steps in an identified process and are making progress. We are confident that a positive resolution will be reached that will be good for the game and the club.”

Yes, an identified process. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Get rid of the logo.

Like, seriously, Cleveland already has a nice alternate cap with a block “C,” so that takes care of that. As for “making progress,” that would consist of removing Wahoo’s dumb ol’ face from the sleeves of Cleveland’s jerseys. Maybe that takes a little while. Anyway, it’s obviously corporate speak for “these dingbats still want to cling to their dumb cartoon character that only idiots like in the year 2017, and when we do get rid of it, we’ll get a bunch of MAGA dolts yelling at us for catering to snowflakes or whatever.”

The case against Chief Wahoo’s continued existence has been made plenty of times for plenty of years, and while the reigning American League champions have ever-so-slowly de-emphasized the offensive cartoon, he’s still very much there. While it’s tempting to praise Manfred for making his position against Wahoo clearer, it’s also one of those situations that you have to look at and say, if you’re really against it, why not just say in no uncertain terms that the logo is racist and there’s no place for it in civilized society, or even in professional baseball.

We know that someday our grandkids will see pictures of Cleveland baseball from our era and ask us what the deal was with that logo. What we don’t know is why the proprietors of professional baseball in northern Ohio can so thoroughly miss an easy opportunity to make truckloads of money.

This plan is a little more complicated than the “process” of ditching Chief Wahoo, but it’s way more profitable, if slightly more cynical. It starts similarly, at least: change the name of the team.

Once you change the name of the team – something that Cleveland did three times in its first 15 years in the American League – you open a gold mine of merchandising, with new hats, new jerseys, new t-shirts, new logo-emblazoned beer mugs, new leather-bound school notebooks for “your young lady” (seriously, a real thing), new everything.

Surely, some Cleveland diehards – and here we mean the biggest morons – will swear off their allegiance to the team when the name changes, so that does mean losing at least a slice of the customer base. Those customers, however, can be replaced at least in part by people who are glad to support a team that has taken a step toward living up to the non-insurance meaning of its stadium name, Progressive Field.

The fully-give-up-the-team group would only be a segment of the fan base, joined by the folks lined up around the block for their new gear and the group that fulfills the cynical element of this plan: people who continue to be fans of their local team but say things like “I still call them the Indians,” pridefully. It’s always important to find the marks in the crowd, and these are them.

What Cleveland ownership needs to realize here is that once you change the name of the team, everything with the old name instantly becomes vintage material, and can be sold at a markup. They’re already smart enough to do this with ultra-racist bobbleheads featuring the 1940s version of Chief Wahoo, so it’s not a foreign concept. And while it would have to be kind of on the down low that they were still profiting off a century of terrible nomenclature, changing the name would generally take the heat off the franchise, shifting it back in full force to Washington’s football team.

It’s painfully obvious that doing the right thing does not motivate the people making these decisions. What’s shocking is that they also remain unmoved by what is essentially a free pile of money and glowing national publicity to go along with it. Opportunities like that don’t come along often, and Cleveland is squandering it.

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