We are now entering year four of what some might call our national war over political correctness. In 2015, multiple Republican presidential candidates placed curtailing political correctness at the heart of their campaigns. In 2016, one of those candidates engaged his supporters with racially charged, politically incorrect rhetoric and won the presidency. In 2017, that president reignited the conservative version of political correctness, condemning football players, mostly African-American, for boycotting the national anthem in protest of racialized police violence. And we’ve begun 2018 with a debate about immigration from “shithole countries” and the dismissal of hundreds of thousands brought to this country illegally as children as immoral and deportable.
It is into this thicket that Major League Baseball stepped gingerly last week when it reached agreement with the Cleveland Indians to retire Chief Wahoo—the grinning, red-faced caricature of America’s first people that has symbolized Cleveland’s professional baseball club since 1947. The Indians will continue to sell limited issue Wahoo merchandise in northeast Ohio to retain its intellectual property rights and prevent mass marketing of the image by others, but the team will heavily reduce the logo’s circulation and will cease featuring it on its uniforms after next year.
One might imagine that an athletic team’s choice of mascot would not engender controversy or bitterness. That might be the case were it not for the deep-seated emotions caused by issues of race and sports in American culture. The day MLB announced its decision, a poll on Cleveland.com was running about 9 to 1 in favor of retaining Chief Wahoo, before settling a little above three-fourths support over the following week. A change.org petition collected over 15,000 signatures in support of the mascot and against “all the P.C. hype!” Polite opinion and corporate dollars are on the side of change, but the passion is with Chief Wahoo. Continue reading