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The Cleveland Indians begin their final season with Chief Wahoo

It’s opening day for the Cleveland Indians — and the last year with their controversial mascot.

The Cleveland Indians are making changes to the way they manage their controversial mascot.
Cleveland Indians baseball hat and glove.
Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

Early this year, the Cleveland Indians announced that they would remove their controversial mascot Chief Wahoo from uniforms in 2019. The logo will also no longer appear on banners and signs at their stadium, or on merchandise sold via the MLB website.

But if their goal is to truly divorce their brand from the cultural appropriation and racist undertones that activists have long protested, that’s not enough.

Even when they change the logo next year, the Cleveland Indians will still be the Cleveland Indians, and the team will continue to sell merchandise with Chief Wahoo’s face on it in local souvenir shops and retail locations.

“It’s hard for me to come up with a defense of — or justification for — some of these images,” argues Michael Lewis, an associate professor at Emory University.

“The red face is problematic,” adds Sundance, a Native American activist and director of the Cleveland American Indian Movement. “The fact that it is an Indian head is problematic because an Indian head is a symbol of genocide, and Wahoo as a caricature then mocks mass murder. The red feather in his hair is a spiritual symbol of a lot of different native people in this country, so they have appropriated spirituality [and] they are perpetuating a symbol of genocide.”

Sundance and Lewis detail why the fight against cultural appropriation in sports is far from over — and how we can do better — on the latest episode of Today, Explained.

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