MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has increased the pressure on the Cleveland Indians to drop the controversial Chief Wahoo logo, as the team is resisting efforts to address the issue this season.
Team ownership has long fought the notion of getting rid of Chief Wahoo, even though the image has been downplayed on team uniforms, branding and marketing in recent years. Former team president Mark Shapiro took the smiling face off game-day caps, but the official home uniform still features Chief Wahoo on a sleeve.
And while Manfred has privately suggested that Chief Wahoo be deemphasized further, this season marks the first time he’s come out directly to say he has a path to transition away from the Chief Wahoo logo.
While Paul Dolan, the Indians’ chairman and chief executive, has been adamant about sticking with Chief Wahoo in some form — hence the jersey presence and Chief Wahoo T-shirt offerings in the team store — what had previously been a firm stance seems to be wavering. Indeed, the official line from the team is less than a firm commitment to Chief Wahoo: the team, according to Bob DiBiasio, the Indians’ senior vice president for public affairs, wants to push any discussions to the offseason to avoid distracting from what should be another strong season from the team, both at the box office and on the field. From The New York Times:
DiBiasio said during Tuesday’s home opener that the club understood the passion on both sides of the issue and that in some ways the team was caught in the middle, trying to find an amicable solution.
“We certainly understand the sensitivities of the logo, those who find it insensitive and also those fans who have a longstanding attachment to its place in the history of the team,” he said.
DiBiasio called the continuing talks productive between Manfred and Paul Dolan, the Indians’ chairman and chief executive. With their sights set on a return to the World Series, the Indians would prefer to address Chief Wahoo after the season to avoid any distractions that could alienate a large swath of fans while games are being played.
“Our primary focus right now is on the team,’’ he said.
There is something a little craven about avoiding a controversy when it could impact the bottom line — especially in Cleveland, where the Indians have been a poor draw in recent years despite ballpark upgrades and new marketing endeavors. The Indians are about to cash in on all these efforts in 2017, expecting a big attendance spike after a 2016 World Series appearance. But tradition is never a reason to keep perpetuating a nasty stereotype, and with many in baseball wishing to see Chief Wahoo relegated to the history books, we’d expect some sort of resolution after the 2017 season.