Cleveland won’t stop selling Chief Wahoo merchandise

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There are now more (and official) details on the story first written about in this space on Monday: The Cleveland Indians will be no more, as early as the 2022 season. They will instead become the Cleveland… something else to be determined, at that point. They’ll remain the Indians for the 2021 season, though, rather than go the route of the Washington Football Club, which is a bit of a weird decision for Cleveland, since they already have a C block logo for their hats and alternate uniforms that say “Cleveland” on them in their current scripts. It wouldn’t be very hard to just go by Cleveland for a season while they figure out what the long-term name is going to be, but alas, just like with Chief Wahoo, the organization isn’t in a rush to change the thing they are willing to admit is racist.

The more worrisome point to come out of owner Paul Dolan’s announcement on the matter was actually regarding that part of Cleveland’s identity that was supposed to be dead and buried back in 2019. In 2018, when Cleveland announced that the Chief Wahoo logo would be phased out — a move that happened only because, in what was a very poorly kept secret, the organization wanted the All-Star Game and MLB wanted them to lose the logo — it was clear that they planned to continue to manufacture and sell Wahoo merchandise locally. They wouldn’t do so nationally — you couldn’t find Wahoo-branded gear on MLB.com anymore — but if you went to the stadium, or local shops, you could still find licensed gear with the awful racist caricature of a Native American on it.

This too is no longer an open secret to fans outside of Cleveland, as it was mentioned in MLB’s story on the coming name change:

Native American groups and others have long protested the use of Indigenous names and symbols by professional and amateur sports teams. Cleveland removed the contentious Chief Wahoo logo from its caps and jerseys prior to the 2019 season, though the team still owns the rights to that logo and has continued to sell merchandise bearing the logo.

Dolan said Monday that, as part of the conversation about the nickname, the team has decided to donate all profits from the sale of Chief Wahoo merchandise to causes that support the Native American community.

In the past, the argument was that Cleveland was ensuring that if anyone was going to profit off of racism against Native Americans, it was going to be them. They would continue to make Wahoo merchandise in part to protect their trademark on the logo, which was never defensible, but at least, he said sardonically, you could see the cold, calculating business logic of that decision. Now, though, the team name is going to change. What is the reason to protect the trademark? Is Cleveland planning for a 2040 retro uniform reveal where they wear uniforms they publicly admitted were racist 20 years before? Are they afraid they won’t have a second chance to be able to put Chief Wahoo on a themed MLB hat honoring the same United States military that helped murder and round up Native Americans over the centuries?

Why does Wahoo merch need to still be produced by and for Major League Baseball and Cleveland when there will no longer be a Cleveland Indians baseball club that it represents? The current argument is that some third-party is going to make Chief Wahoo apparel instead, should the trademark be allowed to expire, but this just raises yet another question: Who gives a fuck? Some comparatively insignificant operation might hypothetically make some racist merchandise featuring a racist logo for a team identity that no longer exists because again, racist, so the plan to combat that is to… definitely make and sell merchandise featuring a logo that the organization itself admits needs to be changed? How does that solve anything?

And giving the profits — Anthony Castrovince says “all” the profits, but since MLB’s accountants will be handling that, do you believe it would actually be all of them? — to Native Americans doesn’t solve anything! This is the merchandise equivalent of planting some trees to counter the environmental impact of fracking. You’re the ones doing this! Just stop making and selling the merchandise, and then you won’t have to write checks with “Sorry about all the racism we keep doing” written in the memo space.

The NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs aren’t changing their name, but they’ve taken steps to try to make sure the culture of racism and appropriation surrounding their name is erased. Obviously, it won’t happen overnight, but…

The Chiefs are a franchise sitting on the same level as the Braves, in the sense they’re able to claim a comparatively innocuous name to what Washington was flaunting, but that any Native name whatsoever allows a racist culture to flourish with headdresses, redface, and so on. That will not be the case any longer at their games: the Chiefs are banning the wearing of headdresses at their games, and, “any face paint that is styled in a way that references or appropriates American Indian cultures and traditions will be prohibited.” Fans will be asked to remove face paint, such as redface, before getting through security.

That’s not going to solve every issue with the culture — the Chiefs themselves say they’re still working out how to handle the “Arrowhead Chop,” but it’s still a real step forward for dismantling some of the racism that comes from “honoring” Native Americans at pro sports games.

…is a real good start. Cleveland shouldn’t worry themselves about an apparel company’s potential to make Wahoo-branded merchandise. They can just ban all of it from the park when the new name goes into effect, and put the logo in the trash and in the past where it belongs. That’s an easy fix if they were serious about all of this, about actually changing the culture surrounding the team, but instead, everything is being done half-assed and seemingly begrudgingly.

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