Coach’s Corner: Retire Chief Wahoo

As we head into 2014, now is the time that youth sports leagues around the country are starting to make their decisions about their spring seasons.  In that respect, I’d like to tell you a decidedly nerdy story that I’m hoping might help parents and leagues get out in front on a particular uniform choice.

They don't give the t-ball kids the choice fields

They don’t give the t-ball kids the choice fields

The first time I stumbled into coaching, the team name I was assigned was the Indians.  Despite my loving the first Major League film and having great respect for the long-suffering fans of the Tribe, I can’t say I was thrilled.

Now, it wasn’t the name.  I have to say I never found a whole lot of substance in the fact that using a people’s name as a team name was somehow trivializing of that people.  Quite the opposite, I think that often teams want names that represent something noble that they can attach themselves to.  Given a number of American Indian tribes have seen fit to support team names such as the Indians, the Braves, and the Seminoles, I was more than fine with my kids becoming Wahoo warriors.

The first one is the kind I think you'd find in a very old Looney Toons

The first one is the kind I think you’d find in a very old Looney Toons

It was the Wahoo itself—that being Chief Wahoo, the team mascot—that gave me pause.  The cartoonish, smiling Indian (my friends and I used to jokingly call him “The Horny Indian”) did evolve over the years from a figure that seemed very obviously a derogatory caricature to one that seemed more generic, but, still, it somehow felt wrong having my kids wearing a simplistic cartoon representing an entire culture.  Indeed, I bought a special “I” Indians hat so I could affiliate but not be wearing the logo.

I was delighted after a couple of years to escape the Indians in favor of the Grays, but this past year, my big fella was back in Wahoo wear as his head coach had a Cleveland connection.  My old “I” hat was too beat up to use again, and I was feeling cheap so I went ahead and wore the Chief.  But during the season, I saw this extremely well done picture put together by the National Congress of American Indians of the Wahoo beside two fictional teams:

That picture really put a spot on it.  As a Jew, I would actually be fine with a team called the Jersey City Jews or the Islip Israelites or Hackensack Hebrews or somesuch.  But that logo?  Yep, I’d be offended.

The kids will still be cute, even if the hats aren't

The kids will still be cute, even if the hats aren’t

It seems the powers that be at the Major League level, seeing the heat that Washington Redskins are getting over their name, are starting to think the wiser about their old logo.  Indeed, as noted in this Sports article, Chief Wahoo seems to be on its way out.  But when I got one of my big pre-season baseball catalogs in the mail and turned to the uniform section, the only Indians hats they had in stock for teams to order were the ole’ Chief.  They did have the new “C” hats available, but they’d need to be special ordered.

Maybe it’s much ado about nothing. Maybe I’m just another member of the PC police.  But I think if the Major League Indians are getting that embracing the culture of others as a symbol for your sports team is different than caricaturizing it, I think it is even more important for that to be emulated immediately at the youth league level.

Not THAT's a mascot!

Not THAT’s a mascot!

I would call upon all the major youth leagues, staring with Little League and Babe Ruth, to request that their affiliates specifically ask for the “C” hat for their kids, as well as jerseys that say “Cleveland” or “Indians” rather than have the Wahoo logo.  It’s a simple enough fix, and one that I think is overdue.

Let’s leave the silly mascots to the giant wingless birds of the Galapagos Islands (bet you didn’t know where the Phillie Phananatic was from!) and people with unusually large baseballs as heads.  Especially the latter, especially wearing blue and orange.  Yeah, that’s the best one, anyway.

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