On a Wednesday night in Cleveland that felt more like it belonged in December than October, I stood inside Progressive Field, just to the right of the Home Run Porch, to take in Game 2 of the 2016 World Series. A few sections away, a man in an Indians jersey, red face paint, and an enormous headdress joyously took in the very same game, sitting with his girlfriend, who was dressed as Pocahontas. They took pictures with fans like they were attractions at Ripley’s Believe it Or Not; two grown adults basking in the joy of playing racist dress up.
Later on that night, with the Indians getting befuddled by Cubs ace Jake Arrieta and his enormous beard, Fox’s cameras caught that same fan looking depressed, and he was promptly (and rightly) roasted up and down the internet.
I silently roasted that dude in my own head, too. Except that earlier that morning I posted a picture of my brother and I watching Game 1 together in a bar in downtown Cleveland. The Indians primary logo, that horribly racist caricature depicting a Native American nicknamed Chief Wahoo, that same face that aforementioned fan was attempting to depict by coloring his face red, adorned my hat.
It’s an odd and uncomfortable time to be an Indians fan. It’s awkward to walk into a stadium and watch some grown-ass white dude in redface engage in a stereotypical Native American chant and know he’s cheering on the same team as you. And it’s a crappy feeling to realize you’ve found ways to justify Chief Wahoo’s existence for years despite quietly acknowledging how awful it is. Progressive Field has turned into a place where racism and cultural appropriation is not only accepted, but encouraged.
It’s awkward to walk into a stadium and watch some grown-ass white dude in redface engage in a stereotypical chant and know he’s cheering on the same team as you.
I was born and raised on Cleveland’s eastside, and like any kid who grew up there in the '90s, Indians games were as integral part of my life as bologna and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Indians team gear was even more egregious back then; sometimes Chief Wahoo would be so large it covered an entire shirt. I’d rock a hat or t-shirt with that smiling monstrosity on it without a care in the world, despite my mom’s plea for us to buy gear without Chief Wahoo. She was way ahead of the curve.
As I got older and formed intellectual thoughts like, “Oh damn, Chief Wahoo is probably super racist,” I’d do things like purchase a cap with a smaller Chief Wahoo as a way to make myself feel better about the purchase. Or cop a jersey with Wahoo on the shoulder so you couldn’t see it unless you saw me from a certain angle. But Chief Wahoo was still there, with that dumb smile, less visible but equally awful.
On that Wednesday night before Game 2 started, I finally left my Wahoo hat at home and copped one with the team’s secondary logo—a red block C. For the first time in my life, Chief Wahoo was nowhere to be found on my person. I’m 27 years old, and that’s embarrassing.
The Indians fans that still roll up to the game in what they think constitutes for Native American garb are disgusting and deserve to be shamed, as does Chief Wahoo itself. But with all the attention placed on it with the Indians appearing in their first World Series in 17 years, I still find myself getting defensive. A college buddy of mine texted me a joke about how ironic it is that the Indians play at Progressive Field and yet still let Chief Wahoo linger, and I snapped back at him. I want the focus to be on the team and downing the Cubs and their insufferable fan base and that stupid W flag, not on one of the last remaining blatantly racist logos in sports.
tfw yr racist and yr team is losing pic.twitter.com/a8NMsCVCON— Bill Baer (@Baer_Bill) October 27, 2016
But that’s dumb. Chief Wahoo is more than just a racist representation of a minority group that lived here long before we came, slaughtered them, and took their land. It’s a symbol of white culture in general, and how we continue to cling to some sort of ownership over any group of people that don’t look like us. “It’s a proud symbol of a baseball team rooted in history!” we cry when actual Native Americans show up to Progressive Field to protest Chief Wahoo, as if that’s something we get to decide.
If the Indians win the World Series, I’ll celebrate as hard as did when the Cavs won it all back in June. I’ll hug my friends, cry with my dad, and then pound entirely too many beers while hugging strangers in downtown Cleveland. But, for the first time in my life, I’ll do it without Chief Wahoo, who doesn’t belong in any sort of celebration. The Indians and the rest of their fans should, too.