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Cleveland Indians drop old logo after 2018

The Cleveland Indians Home Opener on April 6 marks the beginning of the last season that will feature Chief Wahoo at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

On Jan. 29, the Cleveland Indians announced Chief Wahoo will no longer be included on the uniforms or on any merchandise on MLB.com after the 2018 baseball season. The change is happening due to social pressure from fans, activists and Major League Baseball.

Third-year student Rory Gallagher said that the change will have no effect on his identity as a fan of Cleveland baseball. “I think that Chief Wahoo is a racist caricature of Native Americans,” Gallagher said.

Matthew Donahue, a professor in the popular culture department of the University, said when a mascot changes, the social and societal attitudes of the time play a role in the change. “Sports team mascots play a role both for the team and the community in which the team is based,” he said. “The mascots are meant to provide an identification of a team’s brand or image.”

The social pressure that accompanies a controversial mascot brings negative public attention to the team which can cause fans to boycott games or petition against the team in some form. Advertisers might back away from conducting business with a team that is involved in a controversy.

According to David Burns, an associate professor of communications at Salisbury University, corporations work at maintaining a positive reputation within the community. “If the atmosphere surrounding a corporate logo becomes negative or dated, the corporation needs to act to save its reputation and future profits,” Burns said in an email correspondence.

Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, changed its original mascot from the Miami Redskins to the Miami RedHawks at the urging of the Miami tribe, which originated from the Great Lakes area but is currently based in Oklahoma. James Garland, then president of Miami University, called the original nickname inappropriate and requested a change. The logo and mascot were officially changed in 1997.

Public perception is important when it comes to changing an aspect of identity for a team. The fans play a crucial role in how the change will impact the organization and they need to be taken into consideration.

In his 2015 dissertation examining how changes in sport team logos can affect audience consumption, Marlon R. McPhatter of Florida State University wrote: “In the midst of any perceived identification change, loyalty from devoted fans can be achieved through the process of stressing positive elements of the organization.”

The rebranding or modernization of teams can be difficult in the public eye because they have their own traditions. The original fanbase might be hesitant to change any of those traditions.

“In my view, teams have gotten their fans accustomed to viewing the team brand in various ways and therefore emphasizing or de-emphasizing one aspect of the brand may be less shocking today than in the past,” Burns said.

In Cleveland’s case, the logo is the only aspect of the brand that is changing, making the change a lot less shocking to fans.

Logos undergo changes throughout their time in use. Even the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo has changed multiple times since its inception in 1948. A team’s rebrand does not necessarily have to mean the death of an era, but simply a change in representation.

In the absence of Chief Wahoo, the team will play baseball and the fans will continue to show their support in Progressive Field without the shadow of a controversial logo.

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