On Sunday, July 26, the Cleveland Indians official mascot (“Slider”) celebrated his 25th birthday. Slider is a large furry, purple creature that loves Cleveland baseball. It’s hard not to smile when you see that friendly, fuchsia fuzz-ball waving to you during the games. For years, this guy has made entertained fans all over the country. Unfortunately, there’s another Cleveland “mascot” that’s not quite as beloved. I’m talking, of course, about Chief Wahoo.
The Cleveland Indians “mascot”, Chief Wahoo, is clearly a racist caricature. It’s undeniably offensive, like Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, yet it appears on the almost all of the Cleveland merchandise and their fans don’t seem to care.
Strangely enough, the logo wasn’t always quite as overtly racist. When the team was formed, their logo was a large “C”, and it wasn’t changed until the late 1920’s. From 1928-1945, the Cleveland Indian’s logo looked very similar to that of the Chicago Blackhawks.
It was 1946 when the team first adopted a distinctly more offensive version of their logo. The new image was a cartoonish native American with a hooked-nose and a giant smile. In 1951, the team redesigned their graphic; the biggest change was probably the choice to give him beet-red skin. This image became the “Chief Wahoo” that is still in use to this day.
The character was originally designed by Walter Goldbach at the request of the team’s owner. Goldbach has not done a lot of press, but he did give an interview with Cleveland Magazine back in 2008.
“I had a hard time figuring out how to make an Indian look like a cartoon. I wanted him to be happy, which I think he is because of his smile,” said Walter. “It bothers me to hear people are offended. It’s in the back of my mind sometimes. It makes me feel sad.”
There’s no way of knowing exactly what was going through Goldbach’s mind as he designed the character. Stylistically, he was not alone. Disney and Warner Brothers had similar characters. The twentieth century was filled with these types of images; but, luckily, most of them have no been left behind.
At one point in time, The Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Braves each had native American mascots; so did the College of William & Mary, Marquette, Syracuse, The University of Illinois, The University of Louisiana and The University of Tennessee. Today, each of these teams have all been abandoned.
In 2014, the Cleveland Indians reverted back to their initial “C” logo, however they still continue to use Chief Wahoo as a secondary logo. Unfortunately, the team refuses to leave this horrible cartoon in the past. Mark Shapiro, president of the Cleveland Indians, has said that “Chief Wahoo isn’t going anywhere.”
So, while I’d love to join in and celebrate Slider’s birthday, it’s hard to enjoy yourself at a party while there are giant, racist cartoon plastered all over the building. Until Chief Wahoo is retired, I think I’ll have to sit this one out.