Last week, the Cleveland Indians announced that beginning in 2019 they would no longer use the red-faced Chief Wahoo logo on their hats and uniforms. They would continue to wear the image for one more season, and they would keep selling merchandise bearing the Native American cartoon (at least in part to maintain their copyright), but the most controversial insignia in sports was otherwise being relegated to history.
The downfall of Chief Wahoo, which had been demoted to alternate-logo status in 2014, was a victory for activists who had long decried the image as a racist caricature. It was also a sign that the growing pushback against Native names and symbols in high-school and college sports had finally found a foothold in the pros. “We’re already pretty far into the dominos falling; it’s just that the most visible dominos are the most stubborn,” the Cherokee writer and organizer Rebecca Nagle told me. “It’s in the arena of professional sports that people are really behind the times.”
Professional sports in America have been dotted with Native American–inspired team names and logos since at least 1912, when Boston’s National League baseball team first began going by the “Braves.” The Cleveland Naps became the Indians three years later, and before long similar names had become a veritable trend. Today, Major League Baseball still has the Indians and Braves (now in Atlanta); the National Hockey League has the Chicago Blackhawks; and the NFL has the Kansas City Chiefs and, of course, the Washington Redskins. Several NCAA colleges, such as Florida State (Seminoles) and Central Michigan (Chippewas), have teams named for indigenous groups as well. Most, but not all, of these teams also use logos featuring some sort of Native imagery.