In October, during the Cleveland Indians’ evening-long playoff run, a few of the team’s fans fumbled their way into minor Internet infamy. Three men in the seats of Progressive Field had painted their faces bright red and doodled larger-than-human smiles over their own, achieving the likeness of their team’s Chief Wahoo logo. The camera crew for TBS, which televised the game, cut to shots of them throughout the night—maybe to endorse their fanaticism, or perhaps to rubberneck at a sociological car crash.
Deadspin and a few other websites took note of the pseudo-chiefs, and a screen-capture subtitled “That awkward moment when you are racist on national television” garnered a few clicks online. But the uproar, as with most of today’s electronic rage, and like the baseball team’s postseason, was fleeting.
The name and logo controversy in Cleveland is a murmur compared to the roar that has surrounded the Washington Redskins this season, a conversation stoked by a league commissioner and President Obama, among others. Yet the Indians brand—like the Redskins, Atlanta Braves, and Kansas City Chiefs—represents a final goal for race-conscious activists who have seen similar Native American symbols removed from U.S. high schools and colleges in the past half century: Stanford’s Indians became the Cardinal; Marquette’s Warriors turned into the Golden Eagles; and even the Redskins at Miami of Ohio evolved to Red Hawks. But in professional sports, Redskins—by name in D.C. or by caricature in Cleveland—remains.