The Cleveland Misdemeanors

The Cleveland Indians are committing a misdemeanor each time they play ball at Jacobs Field.

Listen, I’m tired of writing this story. Just as you’re weary of reading it. It’s a crappy spring training tradition. It’s strained intercostals in a bizarre Cactus League sneezing accident. Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke and Marty McFly tell us we’re in the future. We have self-driving cars. We twice[1] elected a black president. We capture the sun’s rays to power talking supercomputers that nestle into the palms of our hands. We’re one Vulcan shy of going full Star Trek.

Yet we still tolerate—celebrate, even—the smiling racism of Chief Wahoo.

I refuse to waste time on old arguments. Misappropriated native mascots celebrate genocide. A very clear line connects Wahoo to smallpox blankets. Arguing otherwise sounds like George Wallace crying tyranny from the wrong side of history[2].

This isn’t the liberal agenda. It’s not a slippery slope to political correctness run amok[3]. It’s righting a wrong. Life’s only constant is change; adapt or die with the dinosaurs. Don’t buy any “honoring natives” bull. You’re not that stupid. Cleveland’s Louis Sockalexis story is bunk.

You know as well as I do that in 2016, Chief Wahoo only exists to honor team owner Larry Dolan’s pocketbook.

Economists watching the back-and-forth between Washington DC’s football team and the US Patent office estimated Dan Snyder would lose untold millions should his racist trademarks be rescinded. The billionaire owner of the world’s 7th most valuable sports franchise[4], fearing revenue loss, summoned his army of lawyers to battle the Patent Office.

In value rankings, Cleveland Baseball isn’t even 7 times 7[5]. They can barely summon fans to the stadium. The thought of losing Wahoo’s merch allowance makes team owner Larry Dolan piddle his chinos. Sources close to the front office indicate the team is desperate to kill Wahoo, but doesn’t know how without damaging brand loyalty and merchandising value.

When asked for comment, the team would only say the following:

We are very cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the conversation – our fans’ deep, long lasting attachment to the memories associated with Chief Wahoo and those who are opposed to its use. We continue to research our fan base to better understand their perception and stance on the logo, but at present time we have no plans on making a change. We will continue to have the Wahoo logo represented on our uniforms and home cap during the 2016 season.

Cleveland is silently weaning their fans from Wahoo. In 2014, the Block C usurped Wahoo as primary logo. The team scrubbed Wahoo from its Goodyear, Arizona spring training facilities. In five years (or a few playoff wins—whichever comes first) Cleveland will probably unveil a redesigned road jersey, sans Wahoo. Just as when the Block C stole Wahoo’s limelight, the team will acknowledge smoke but deny the fire, saying Cleveland isn’t demoting Wahoo, but rather celebrating the city they call home.

Cleveland City Councilman Zack Reed is vehement that the team’s waffling should receive no quarter. “As an African American, I know what racism looks like, feels like, smells like… They should have gotten rid of [Wahoo] ten years ago.” For Reed, all you have to do is put Wahoo and Sambo side-by-side: “They look identical. We’ve abolished the black Sambo, why do we still tolerate Wahoo?”

Councilman Reed would see Wahoo banned from all public structures. Cleveland’s city charter prohibits hanging banners from lamp posts and street signs without specific permits. There is no record of the Cleveland baseball team acquiring any permits, yet Opening Day banners and Wahoos flutter all over town. Councilman Reed has called on the team to produce permits or take down their signage. For his efforts, Councilman Reed has received both encouragement and a fair amount of push back. To him, it makes no difference: “Whatever pressure we can put on [the Cleveland Indians], we need them to understand [Wahoo] is not acceptable.”

Councilman Reed’s actions make a clear indication: the only way the Indians will quickly and publicly remove Wahoo is if his continued presence complicates business and dams revenue streams. Fans have already proven their reluctance to part with Wahoo shirts and caps; the majority of Cleveland citizens favor keeping Wahoo[6]. The Patent Office’s waffling on Washington’s trademarks holds little hope for swift judicial action.

Which brings us to our titular misdemeanors. We’re not talking about Johnny Damon’s $40M dud of a contract. We’re not talking dime beer night. We’re talking actual municipal violations.  Every time Larry Dolan gathers a Wahoo-emblazoned team at the corner of Ontario and Carnegie streets, he is breaking Cleveland city law:

667.04; Societies to Promote Racial Hatred, Etc.

 

No person shall organize any society which tends to promote racial hatred or religious bigotry.

 

(Ord. No. 63410-A. Passed 9-22-1924[7])

Ask the Native Americans picketing outside Jacobs Field. Ask the fans tweeting #DeChief and #NoWahoo. Ask the Cleveland American Indian Movement. There’s no “tends to” about it; Chief Wahoo promotes racial hatred. Wahoo encourages otherwise reasonable adults to put on redface, to bark vitriol at Native Americans outside Cleveland’s stadium.

In theory, Dolan, for organizing the “society” of Cleveland baseball, commits 81 misdemeanors a season. With a penalty of $1,000 and 3 months in prison per offense, Dolan should amass near $100k in fines and 20 years behind bars between April and October.

This is to say nothing of the team’s corporate partners and sponsors. Doesn’t Progressive Insurance (of “Progressive Field”) also tacitly promote Wahoo’s racial hatred? I don’t think Flo would fare well on Orange is the New Black. One could also argue Major League Baseball and its member teams also have a hand in organizing Cleveland’s hate. Nike and Majestic, in producing jerseys and merchandise with Wahoo’s face, are similarly culpable.

It’s a sad statement on Cleveland baseball that an offended party could, on Monday, April 4th, call (216) 263-5100 and report a misdemeanor at the corner of Euclid and Ontario. Opening day is supposed to be a celebration, not a protest.

To the Cleveland fans rallying behind Wahoo, I appeal to your better self: what would Mr. Rogers do?[8] You choose to identify with Indians; natives don’t have that luxury. Don’t allow external forces to define you.  You’re a mother, a father, a spouse, a worker. You saw the Browns pack and leave. You know better than most that your sports teams only love you as much as your wallet allows. It’s because we love this organization that we have to stop its cowardice.

Sports should be a force of civic cohesion. The stadium should be a haven from hate. Instead, Cleveland has a fractured fanbase, a steady stream of protesters, and a petty criminal of an owner choosing money over justice.


NOTES:
[1] Twice!
[2] “Wahoo today, Wahoo tomorrow, Wahoo forever!”
[3] Quick aside, if anyone ever argues “the X agenda” or “slippery slope,” kindly ask they stop flinging rhetorical cow pies and extricate yourself lest their virulent stupid numb your brain.
[4] http://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2015/07/15/the-worlds-50-most-valuable-sports-teams-2015/
[5] They’re actually #69: http://www.forbes.com/soccer-valuations/list/; http://www.forbes.com/nfl-valuations/list/; http://www.forbes.com/nhl-valuations/list/; http://www.forbes.com/mlb-valuations/list/
[6] http://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/04/bench_chief_wahoo_editorial_bo.html
[7] It would seem Cleveland’s 4-10 embarrassment at the hands of the visiting Yankees wasn’t their only crime on September 22, 1924.
[8] I’d say, “What would Jesus do?” but too many atrocities have already been carried out in J.C.’s name.

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