During game three of the 2017 World Series, Houston Astros’ first baseman Yuli Gurriel made a racist gesture in the dugout after hitting a homerun off of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish, a native of Japan. The camera displayed Gurriel pulling his eyes back and mouthing the term “chinito” to a teammate, a slang term for “little Chinese boy.” Gurriel — who later apologized and tipped his helmet to Darvish in game seven of the series — didn’t face immediate punishment from the MLB, but eventually was suspended for the first five games of the 2018 baseball season and will have to undergo mandatory sensitivity training before playing again. While Gurriel should have been reprimanded more severely, the MLB’s resolution to penalize him for his racial insensitivity indicates that the organization takes racism and discrimination seriously, as emphasized by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s public statement that “there is no excuse or explanation that makes that type of behavior acceptable.” Why then, does the MLB continue to allow publicizing, broadcasting, and profiting off of Chief Wahoo, the embarrassingly racist and parodied mascot of the Cleveland baseball team’s franchise?
If the MLB claims to take racial discrimination seriously, then it is long overdue to drop Wahoo. The logo, a caricature of a Native American face, is insensitive, dramatized, and has elicited major offense and controversy for years. The Indians organization has considered replacing the mascot multiple times in the past, but every proposal has been recalled.
Replacing a racist logo is by no means an unprecedented change — various colleges, universities, and professional sports teams in the past 50 years have exchanged or adjusted their mascots to reverse discrimination, such as Dartmouth College’s change from the Indians to the Big Green in 1974, Syracuse University’s removal of the “Saltine Warrior” in 1978, and the Toronto Blue Jays Triple-A team’s replacement of “Chiefs” with “Skychiefs” in 1997.
The history of progress in organized sports is no mystery to the administrators of the Indians franchise, whose support of Chief Wahoo has gradually declined. However, in recent years as Cleveland has risen to the top tier of the MLB and continues striving for a World Series Championship, the team’s racially insensitive mascot has become increasingly burdensome. It has elicited protest from progressively-minded baseball fans, Native American associations, and social justice advocates. Commissioner Manfred, who publicly shared his “desire to transition away from the Chief Wahoo logo” in April, reportedly met with the Cleveland baseball team’s owner Paul Dolan various times in the past two years to discuss the future of the mascot, and has made clear his eagerness to see the logo disappear.
It is time for Dolan, Manfred, and the rest of MLB officials to do away with complaints from fans and exercise consistency with their treatment of racial insensitivity by scrapping the racist mascot that has offended countless people and communities and tainted the organization’s reputation for years. They cannot just fight individual instances of discrimination; they must rise to the challenge of undoing racist traditions embedded in entire franchises and remove Wahoo for good.