The (Sort of) End of Chief Wahoo

January 30, 2018 § Leave a comment

The Cleveland baseball team took a positive step this week.  It announced on Monday that it was going to remove the deeply offensive Chief Wahoo from its caps and jerseys for the 2019 season.  This is an important start.  Chief Wahoo is an offensive caricature of an indigenous chief, drawn in a cartoonish, stereotypical manner. Note that not only is he grinning, he is actually red.  Like, you know, ‘redskin’.  (The Washington football team is a whole other problem, for another day).

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Chief Wahoo.

Chief Wahoo has a long genesis.  The Cleveland baseball team was originally founded in Grand Rapids, MI, in 1894, and known as the Rustlers.  It moved to Cleveland in 1900, calling itself the Lake Shores. Seems pretty obvious how that name didn’t stick.  Up to that point, the Grand Rapids/Cleveland team was a minor league team, in the Western League.  In 1900, the Western League evolved into a major league, rebranded as the American League (the National League dates back to 1876, hence, it is sometimes called ‘the senior circuit’).  The Cleveland baseball team is a charter member of the AL, and for the launch of the new league in 1901, it also rebranded itself as the Bluebirds.  In 1902, they were the Barons (this name was revived by the sad sack NHL team based in Cleveland from 1976-78; they didn’t last long, in 1978, they merged with the Minnesota North Stars, which is now the Dallas Stars franchise).  From 1903 to 1914, they were named after their star player, Nap Lajoie.  But, in 1914, Lajoie left Cleveland to go play for the Philadelphia (now Oakland) Athletics.  So, the Naps needed a new name.

And so, we ended up with the Indians.  This was meant to be a nod to Cleveland baseball history.  The original major league team in town was the Cleveland Spiders of the National League; they folded in 1899, precipitating the Rustlers’ move to the big city.  The Spiders had had an indigenous player, Louis Sockalexis, who played his whole career with the team  Thus, the Indians. So, in a way, the name came about as a tribute both to the defunct baseball team and to one of its star players.  But, of course, this is one of those historical obscurities that got lost, it has become anachronistic over time.

In 1932, the Cleveland Plain Dealer used a cartoon precursor of Chief Wahoo as a logo to stand in for actually using the full name of the team.  This version became known as ‘the little Indian,’ and the Plain Dealer used the logo in its coverage for the next several years. In 1947, the team’s owner, Bill Veeck hired a graphic design firm to create a new logo for his team.  And thus, we got the original Chief Wahoo.  He wasn’t called that at the outset, in fact, he had no name.  Also, while a cartoon stereotype, he wasn’t red-skinned. A red-skinned version appeared in 1948, but was not the official logo of the team until 1951.

Logo_of_the_Cleveland_Indians_(1946-1950)

Cleveland BasebalL Team logo, 1947-50

The name Chief Wahoo eventually came from Cleveland sports writers.  The guy who created the original, in 1947, Walter Goldbach, was only 17 years old at the time.   Goldbach has noted several times since that he didn’t mean to offend anyone, and that he actually had a hard time to render an indigenous man as a cartoon.  He also has argued that Chief Wahoo isn’t actually a chief, he’s a brave.  He only has one feather.  (That of course, brings us to the Atlanta baseball team, another issue for another day).

Chief Wahoo remained the primary logo of the Cleveland baseball team until 2013, when it decided that perhaps it was time to start rethinking Chief Wahoo.  At that time, the team unveiled a new logo, a stylized C, for Cleveland.  It’s actually the superior logo.  I much prefer it.

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The Cleveland Baseball Team logo, 2013-present

The Clevelands have not, of course, won a World Series since 1954, the longest running drought in professional sports (now that the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series).  Cleveland sports writers have wondered if Chief Wahoo is actually a curse.

So the announcement this week that Chief Wahoo is being retired next year is welcome.  Except that’s not entirely the case.  You can believe there will be a run on this offensive cartoon logo as this season and year progresses.  And, in order to maintain the trademark, the team will continue to sell Chief Wahoo-branded gear in the Cleveland region after banishing the logo from the uniform.

So this isn’t a total victory.  But it’s an important start.  The next thing is to get the Cleveland baseball team to change its name, perhaps to the Spiders.  And then there’s the Washington football team, and the Atlanta baseball team.  But, baby steps?

 

The Upside to Gentrification?

January 22, 2014 § 7 Comments

I read an interesting article on NPR.org this morning, about gentrification.  Based on recent research from Columbia University and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, gentrification may not entirely suck for low-income people in gentrifying neighbourhoods.  The Columbia study looked at displacement in Harlem and across the US, calculating how many low income people moved out of their neighbourhoods when gentrification occurred.  Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Bank looked at the credit scores of low income people in gentrifying neighbourhoods.  In the first case, researchers found that people didn’t necessarily move out, in fact, low income earners were no more likely to move out of a gentrifying neighbourhood than a non-gentrifying one.  In the case of the Federal Reserve Bank, the credit scores of low income earners actually improved with gentrification of their neighbourhoods.

Not surprisingly, I find these kinds of studies slightly disarming.  Lance Freeman, Director of the Urban Planning programme at Columbia, expected to find that displacement was a common occurrence.  But he is still cautious to note that gentrification can and does indeed lead to displacement.

Most studies, at least most I have read from a wide variety of disciplines, lay out the reasons for displacement with gentrification: higher housing costs, higher food costs, higher taxes (if they own), amongst others.  In my experience of living in gentrifying neighbourhoods, the cost of gentrification is obvious on the street, as the original residents get marginalised as cafés, hipster clothing stores, and yuppy restaurants open.  There is no place for them to go, and the coffee shops and bodegas they used to frequent close down.  However, it is also obvious that people stay.  In part, they are helped by things such as rent control, or dedicated low income housing.  And, at least from my own anecdotal evidence, mixed-residential neighbourhoods are certainly friendlier, more community-based, and generally nicer to live in.

Last weekend, there was a story in the Boston Globe about a Southie woman, Maureen Dahill, who ran for State Senate, but lost gloriously, in large part because she supported the right of LGBT groups to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Dahill ran for office in order to attempt to bridge the gulf between “new” and “old” Southie, between the yuppies, artists, and hipsters, and the old Irish.  Dahill, a native of South Boston, works in the fashion industry, her husband is a firefighter. In other words, she was the ideal candidate for the role.

What I find interesting, aside from the fact she was trounced in the election, was the discussion in this article about the gulf that exists between the old and the new in Southie.  And this is something that is overlooked by quantified research studies such as the Columbia and Federal Reserve Bank ones.  However, what they add to the discussion is that there are those who remain, who refuse to leave for a variety of reasons.  The job now is to, if not attempt to emulate Dahill’s failed campaign (the Globe notes that from the get go “there were many who didn’t want any part of her bridge-building.”  The article doesn’t identify which side of the gulf this resistance came from.

At any rate, it is refreshing to see researchers attempt to explore the myths of gentrification, but I would also caution that we do not need a neo-liberal backlash that leads us to conclude that gentrification is good, it’s the best thing that can happen to us.  We must still discuss the human costs of gentrification, we must still fret over the plight of low income earners in neighbourhoods where rents go from $500 to $3,000 a month in short order.

 

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