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Thursday, January 9, 2014
Is Chief Wahoo being demoted?

By Paul Lukas
ESPN

As you may have heard, there's some hubbub going on about the Indians demoting their Chief Wahoo logo to secondary status and designating the block-C as their primary logo for 2014.

That hubbub started with a tweet from me, which was based on information from a confidential source. The Indians have denied the story, but I have since confirmed it with two other sources, including SportsLogos.net editor Chris Creamer, who in turn cited sources of his own.

Indians Logo
Chief Wahoo isn't going away. At least not yet. He'll still have a home on the Indians' jersey sleeves.

But forget about all the "our word against theirs" stuff; that will play itself out soon enough. Instead, let's address a more interesting question: If the Indians are indeed flip-flopping their primary and secondary logo designations, what does that mean?

It doesn't mean there will be any uniform changes, at least not yet. The Indians have no uni alterations slated for 2014, which means Chief Wahoo will still be on the team's home cap and on the left sleeve of all the team's jerseys for at least one more season. In that sense, the impact of the logo redesignations would be more symbolic than practical.

But symbolism matters, especially when discussing Chief Wahoo, whose own symbolism has become controversial. Although most of the debate about Native American imagery in sports has centered on the NFL's Washington Redskins, there's been a rising chorus of voices calling for the Indians to retire Wahoo. The people behind those voices would have to interpret his demotion as a victory, even if it doesn't yet banish his visage from the team's uniforms.

Moreover, the logo redesignations would have ripple effects because media outlets -- including "SportsCenter" and newspapers -- would start using the block-C, instead of Wahoo, as their visual shorthand for the team.

The Indians have consistently denied that they're de-emphasizing Wahoo, but the facts suggest otherwise. The franchise removed Wahoo from its road cap in 2011 and from its home batting helmet in 2013. At last summer's All-Star Game FanFest -- a merch-fest where teams generally slap all their logos on every product imaginable -- Wahoo was nowhere to be found. Go to the Indians' website and you'll find the block-C near the top of the home page with Wahoo less prominently used. Several reporters have noted that the block-C has a much larger presence than Wahoo at the team's spring training facility too.

Terry Francona
The block-C cap being worn here by manager Terry Francona appears to have been designated as the team's primary logo.

It doesn't take a genius to connect these dots. If anything, the news that Wahoo is poised to officially become low man on the totem pole (pun fully intended) is more dog bites man than the other way around.

The Indians appear to be trying to have it both ways, easing Wahoo off to the glue factory while maintaining that they're doing nothing of the sort.

You can understand the position they're caught in. They don't want to anger their fan base, many members of whom are emotionally attached to Wahoo. But they also can't deny the reality that ethnic caricatures such as Wahoo are harder and harder to defend in a modern, diverse society.

That's a tough spot, but taking baby steps and then willfully denying the obvious seems like a bad approach. Sometimes it's better just to rip off the Band-Aid and do what needs to be done. Say what you want about Daniel Snyder, but at least he hasn't given any mixed signals regarding his feelings about his team's name and logo.

Meanwhile, there's another matter to consider: If the block-C is now the team's primary mark, what do we think of it? The feeling here is that it's too bland, too generic. What about going with the team's mid-1970s logo? Seems like a better bet.