OTHER VOICES: Dump Chief Wahoo

CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER Published:

When the Cleveland Indians break training camp in March for the start of the Major League Baseball season, they should do so without one of their veterans.

Chief Wahoo.

That will understandably disappoint many Tribe fans given the emotional hold the smiling, big-toothed, big-nosed cartoon Indian has had on them for more than 60 years. But it's time to acknowledge once and for all that the caricature represents a racially insensitive stereotype of Native Americans.

The Indians -- the baseball variety --defend the smiling Wahoo as a benign symbol of the great American pastime, yet they have tacitly acknowledged its offensive characteristics by reducing Wahoo's role in team marketing over the years.

It's time for a clean break.

If Wahoo were all that harmless, the giant, neon Wahoo displayed at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium for years would have traveled across town when the team moved to Progressive Field in 1994. It didn't fit the architecture, the team said.

Now, the 35-foot sign occupies a spot in the Western Reserve Historical Society, where it belongs.

Just as that giant graphic image was retired from the line-up, smaller ones should be, too. That includes Wahoo-adorned promotions at the ballpark and small Wahoo patches worn on some of the players' hats and sleeves. A demeaning symbol is a demeaning symbol, regardless of degree.

Many fans don't see it that way. They view Wahoo through the lens of their youth, when they learned to embrace Wahoo the way they did Bugs Bunny, as loveable and funny, and before they knew anything about racial stereotypes.

That's why benching Wahoo is so difficult for them. It implies that their affection for Wahoo was somehow impure. It taints their nostalgia. It creates a break from the past. For many, getting rid of Wahoo means giving into excessive political correctness.

One day, the Indians will say goodbye to Wahoo. It's inevitable. And it's a little unsettling that it hasn't happened by now. Why cling to Wahoo when it so clearly offends?

One might wonder whether, if Greater Cleveland were a faster-growing region, if it didn't feel so defensive about its hard-luck professional sports teams, it would have found the collective self-esteem before now to part willingly with Wahoo.

But the Indians shouldn't wait to win a World Series or for the city to hit boom times to discover the well of decency and understanding within itself to dump the Chief.

The team should do it now. Take the heat. Deal with the backlash. Move on. It can be done thoughtfully, by simply acknowledging the mixed emotions of all involved.

Then the city and the team can send a message to the world that it gets it. And Indians fans, all of them, can root for the team, unconditionally.

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  • Don't talk about VP Joe Biden that way.