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Powwow attendee Sonny Hensley holds an anti-mascot button to protest using Indians as mascots for sports teams at the 10th Annual New Years Eve Sobriety Powwow January 1, 2003 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images)

With Cleveland Indians to Drop Racist Logo, Eyes on Washington 'Redskins'

"The Cleveland baseball team has rightly recognized that Native Americans do not deserve to be denigrated as cartoon mascots"

Andrea Germanos

News Monday that the racist Chief Wahoo logo will finally no longer appear on the Cleveland Indians' uniforms starting next year prompted calls for other sports teams to follow suit, and for the Midwest team to go further if there's to be a real shift towards justice.

"Over the past year," Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. said in a press statement, "we encouraged dialogue with the Indians organization about the Club's use of the Chief Wahoo logo. During our constructive conversations, [Cleveland Indians owner] Paul Dolan made clear that there are fans who have a longstanding attachment to the logo and its place in the history of the team. Nonetheless, the club ultimately agreed with my position that the logo is no longer appropriate for on-field use in Major League Baseball, and I appreciate Mr. Dolan's acknowledgement that removing it from the on-field uniform by the start of the 2019 season is the right course."

The statement implies that previous decades of use of the caricature were "appropriate for on-field use."

The Associated Press notes, "Every year, groups of Native Americans and their supporters have protested outside the stadium before the home opener in hopes of not only getting the team to abolish Chief Wahoo but to change the Indians' nickname, which they feel is an offensive depiction of their race."

The statement also makes clear the logo won't be eradicated completely. As notes, "You'll still be able to buy T-shirts and hats featuring the controversial Native American caricature, though according to the New York Times, Wahoo won't be sold on Major League Baseball's website."

 As such, the move to ditch the "utterly inappropriate and racist" mascot was met with tepid praise. One observer, for example, tweeted, "Way past due, Cleveland Indians finally removing racist Chief Wahoo logo from uniforms. Why does it take until 2019?" 

Another journalist tweeted, "This is a big moment for Philip Yenyo, @zhaabowekwe and other Native American activists who've argued for decades that #ChiefWahoo is a blatantly racist caricature." 

While a welcome development, other justice advocates said that it should not be the end of the road for the team.

"If they were committed to real justice, they would deny admission to anyone wearing a headdress and a painted face. If it's 'inappropriate' for the players to display the logo, then fans shouldn't be allow to either," commented one Twitter user. "Exactly," another native observer responsed. "The team must to do more—much more, like change the name, ban the use of the racist mascot from its stadium altogether (also agree to cease selling merch w/ the racist logo), and apologize for creating a hostile climate for Natives in Cleveland and in state of Ohio."

The Change the Mascot grassroots movement said that while Cleveland's move was good, it should force other teams, including the NFL's Washington Redskins, to take a look in the mirror.

"The Cleveland baseball team has rightly recognized that Native Americans do not deserve to be denigrated as cartoon mascots, and the team's move is a reflection of a grassroots movement that has pressed sports franchises to respect Native people," said Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter, leader of the campaign.

"Cleveland's decision should finally compel the Washington football team to make the same honorable decision. For too long," he continued, "people of color have been stereotyped with these kinds of hurtful symbols—and no symbol is more hurtful than the football team in the nation's capital using a dictionary-defined racial slur as its team name. Washington Owner Dan Snyder needs to look at Cleveland's move and then look in the mirror and ask whether he wants to be forever known as the most famous purveyor of bigotry in modern sports, or if he wants to finally stand on the right side of history and change his team's name. We hope he chooses the latter. ”

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