CHIEF WAHOO CONTEMPLATES THE RIVER STYX
The now long-running campaign against racist sports nicknames claimed its first scalp in a while last month when baseball’s Indians decided that they would cease and desist using their Chief Wahoo mascot, though not without a few ifs and buts, a principal one being that they would still offer the Chief’s merchandise locally, saying that if they didn’t they would lose their trademark and then God-knows-who could do God-knows-what with Wahoo. Since the Chief had already been deemphasized to the point of invisibility some years ago, when he was taken off the uniforms and replaced with a nondescript ‘C’, and television and websites followed suit, it’s a tad difficult to see this as any sort of huge step, just as when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays amputated the ‘Devil’ part some years since to assuage fundamentalist sensibilities and the team became just plain vanilla ‘Rays’, which is what everybody had always called them anyway.
I’m almost always behind the curve on this political correctness bit, so I can’t say my passions were quite as stirred as most on this particular question, but I did think that Wahoo was a pretty limp mascot; I disliked his leer and the overwrought red he radiated was a little unsubtle, probably even in his birth year of 1947, and certainly today, when primary colors don’t seem to be part of design palettes any more.
That this particular debate has been simmering for some years was brought home to me when I tried to determine even an approximate decade when I read a memorable piece which attempted to find a moderate path forward on ethnic mascots (which always seem to boil down to Native American ones—I have yet to hear that Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish are under attack, nor do I expect to). Whenever it was, and it may have been in the last century, the writer said that our criterion should be whether the mascot ridiculed Native Americans. If so, it should go. If not, it could live long and prosper. And yes, he sorted through both their names and pictures to give us examples.
As for the names, Redskins was insulting, Indians was not. He wasn’t sure about Chiefs. I don’t really remember what he thought about pictures, but I can tell you that they definitely fall into three categories. There are cartoonish ones, such as Wahoo, fierce ones such as the Kansas City Chief and Atlanta Brave (though it must be said that I haven’t seen much of them lately either), and the contemplative ones, with the Washington Redskin leading the path, and of the three, I’d say that he is surely the least objectionable, as he appears to be a lineal descendant of Auguste Rodin’s thinker.
Now I’m not paid to tell you what to think about this issue. What I am paid to do is to point out fuzzy thinking and illogical arguments. O, I know that occurrences in the press of these phenomena are unusual, but readers of USA Today had one made available to them last week. The sportswriter delineated her arguments against Wahoo’s existence, all of which were basically samey to what I’ve been reading for a quarter-century—I get it, okay? Except for one, which she clearly felt was the clinching, conclusive argument the sheer brilliance of which would silence all dissenters and reduce them to a melty puddle in the corner from the sheer radiance of its brilliance: if one person anywhere, anytime objected to a sports nickname or mascot, it should go.
Actually, it’s difficult for me to think of any mascots or nicknames which don’t offend somebody, maybe even quite a few somebodies. I doubt that vegetarians are comfortable with Green Bay Packers. I wouldn’t be surprised if people who have been PTSDed along a faultline aren’t too fond of San Jose Earthquakes. The University of Georgia’s UGA frightens my cats and Louisana State’s Mike the Tiger frightens my dog. And don’t get me started on why nobody seems to give a fig about Fighting Irish (O, I already did?)
In the end, the solution I liked the best was, alas, a temp, cooked up by the University of North Dakota when they had to drop Fighting Sioux—for a few years they didn’t have a nickname at all. They just showed up—they weren’t the Fighting Sioux, or Rabbitohs, or Toffeemen, or Galacticos, or whatever they eventually came up with. They were North Dakota, and they just showed up, in minimalist glory, whilst Chief Wahoo and their Fighting Sioux dude camped along the River Styx, Cerberus standing guard.