Opinion: 'Chief Wahoo' promotes racism

"I don't think that Cleveland has to change its name to the Rockers or the Gnats. But the cartoonish caricature of a group of human beings -- signified by Chief Wahoo's red skin and big white teeth -- is the absolute equivalent of the blackface Sambo images that polluted American culture in the first half of the 20th century, and Nazi propaganda portrayals of Jews with big noses and wicked sneers.

As I watched the games televised from Cleveland, I was sickened by the video images of fans in the stands dressed up like Wahoo, childish feathers on their heads, their skin painted red, their mouths painted white, cups of beer in their hands. Even worse, was a large image of Wahoo in the grandstands, with the chief's face replaced with a photo of Cleveland veteran Kenny Lofton, who is African-American. The shills in the announcing booth praised all this as an expression of the fans' passionate support for their team.

I don't think that journalists have to wait for protests outside a stadium before they act. There is a story to be told, and it's as relevant the day after a Cleveland loss as it would be if they had gone to the series. The columnists can have their say, of course. But here's what makes Chief Wahoo news: the so-called American pastime -- and the industries that support it -- are broadcasting and printing images that travel around the world. These images offer vicious portrayals of a race of people -- iconic representations that become associated not with shame but with triumph and joy.

Cleveland has lost again. Maybe that failure and humiliation should become known as the Curse of Chief Wahoo."

Get the Story:
The Curse of Chief Wahoo: Enabling Racist Imagery (Poynter Online 10/22)

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