Let ‘Chief Wahoo’ do some good By Muhammad Cohen, CDC Gaming Reports April 14, 2018 at 12:32 pm Major League Baseball has convinced the Cleveland Indians to remove their Chief Wahoo logo from uniforms. That may be a victory over racism or a cynical gesture, but it’s a missed opportunity for baseball and tribal casino communities, one that’s particularly relevant as the National Indian Gaming Association gathers this week for its annual convention and trade show in Las Vegas. “Major League Baseball is committed to building a culture of diversity and inclusion throughout the game,” Commissioner Rob Manfred declared in the January announcement that Chief Wahoo, a scarlet skinned caricature with a huge toothy grin and single feather that debuted in 1947, would be disappear from Cleveland uniforms after this season, citing “my position that the logo is no longer appropriate.” Protesters at Cleveland’s Progressive Field for last week’s opening day said getting rid of Chief Wahoo next year doesn’t end what they call more than a century of racism. They want the logo removed immediately plus an end to the Indians name, but many team supporters disagree. “While we recognize many of our fans have a longstanding attachment to Chief Wahoo,” team owner Paul Dolan stated in the news release, “I’m ultimately in agreement with Commissioner Manfred’s desire to remove the logo from our uniforms in 2019.” Dolan later called it “the toughest decision” he’d made as owner. A name change is not on the table. While Manfred wants Chief Wahoo forgotten, the logo won’t be gone. Even after this year, the Indians will keep selling Chief Wahoo merchandise with Major League Baseball’s blessing. Continued use maintains copyright control, preventing anyone else from using Chief Wahoo without the team and baseball getting a piece of the action. Ethics are fine, up to a point, the point where they cost money. Money is where tribal gaming, with some $30 billion in revenue, comes in. The times done changed since the 1980s, when baseball banned retired all-time greats Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle for working as greeters at Atlantic City casinos. In those days, baseball barred any association with gambling, a legacy of 1919, when players on the Chicago White Sox conspired with gangster Arnold Rothstein to lose the World Series. These days, it’s hard to walk into a major league ballpark without seeing casino ads, predominantly from tribal properties. Neither NIGA nor MLB responded when asked whether they discussed Chief Wahoo. In addition, NIGA has not publicly reacted to the logo’s removal. Given tribal casinos’ preponderance as ballpark advertisers, NIGA and its membership can’t pretend to be innocent bystanders in what baseball does. Use of Chief Wahoo and the Indians name shouldn’t hinge on the sensibilities of the commissioner. Chief Wahoo and the Indians name trace to Louis Sockalexis, a member of the Penobscot tribe who starred for Cleveland’s original professional baseball team, the Spiders, in 1897. He made such an impression that in early 1915, when owners sought a name for the Cleveland team, fans and sportswriters proposed Indians as a tribute to Sockalexis, who died in 1913 at age 42. Chief Wahoo and the Indians name may not be the most appropriate recognition for Sockalexis, but rather than abandon them, use them to honor him by helping Native Americans. For starters, let MLB and the team dedicate sales proceeds from Chief Wahoo merchandise to fund youth baseball and softball in tribal communities. That will create opportunities for Native Americans to follow in Sockalexis’ footsteps, not just the millions-to-one long shot of becoming a major league player but in the much more reachable realm of college athletics. Before becoming a Cleveland Spider, Sockalexis excelled at baseball and football at Holy Cross. NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr, a three-sport letterman at Wisconsin’s Mount Senario College, surely understands the benefits of sports and the value of teamwork. NIGA could encourage members to team with Major League Baseball to supplement Chief Wahoo merchandise revenue with some portion of their ballpark sponsorship spending to help younger Native Americans play ball. Using Indian casinos’ leverage with baseball to support the game in tribal communities can do much more good than campaigning against a cartoon.