MLB’s Removal of Cleveland Logo Is Latest Win for Native American Group

With the Cleveland Indians announcing the retirement of their mascot this week, the National Congress of American Indians scored perhaps the biggest win in its decades-long campaign to end the use of Native American imagery by sports teams. The group says it’s a big step but that there’s still a ways to go on the issue.

The long-running effort to get major sports teams to drop Native American iconography turned a major corner this week, in no small part thanks to the work of the National Congress of American Indians.

NCAI, which has called for the removal of Native American sports logos and branding since at least 1968, has focused intently on Major League Baseball in recent years. In particular, the Cleveland Indians have used different variants of a caricature, Chief Wahoo, as the team logo for at least 70 years. This week, however, the franchise revealed it would severely curtail its use of the character.

In a news release this week, NCAI noted it met with league commissioner Rob Manfred last year. “Damaging imagery like the caricature of Chief Wahoo denigrates Native people and is harmful to their self-esteem, particularly for Native youth,” the group said in the release. “Commissioner Manfred recognizes this fact, and thus kept his word, fulfilling his commitment to work with the team to retire the Chief Wahoo logo. NCAI commends Major League Baseball and Commissioner Manfred for choosing to stand on the right side of history.”

The retirement of the logo came as a result of an agreement between the league and the team, which is preparing to host the MLB All-Star Game in 2019, ESPN reported. The logo will be retired from jerseys and stadium signs after the 2018 season. While the team will continue to sell products with the logo around the Cleveland area, the report suggests this is largely in an effort to prevent the logo from falling into the public domain.

“During our constructive conversations, [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,” Manfred said in a statement. “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 retirement of the Indians logo may be the most prominent success that NCAI has seen in its long campaign to end the use of Native American imagery in sports, but it is far from the first. Over the years, the group’s “Proud to Be” campaign has played a role in eliminating around two-thirds of roughly 3,000 mascots with Native themes from various sports leagues.

While examples still exist—the NFL’s Washington Redskins may be the best-known—a significant one is about to fade into the history books.

“Today’s news is a big step in the right direction, but much work remains, and NCAI will press on with this struggle until every single one of these harmful mascots is gone from the sports landscape,” NCAI President Jefferson Keel said in the group’s release.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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