Chief Wahoo, Money, and Principle
Late December’s “Year in Review” features will prompt one to remember news stories from the year’s beginning. In January, 2018, the Cleveland Indians announced they would cease using their Chief Wahoo logo after the end of the baseball season.
The move seemed to be pressured by Major League Baseball’s front office as many people, including myself, view the logo as cringe-worthy racist. Owner Paul Dolan also seemed uncomfortable with it, but needed MLB to force his hand.
I could see, from an Indians fans perspective, why they might still like the logo and not see it as racist. Other college and pro teams have logos or mascots that are cartoonish representatives of humans to represent a spirit of fun. And this is what Indians fans had for a long time.
That’s not, however, a reason to keep it. What sets Chief Wahoo apart from other logos isn’t that it’s cartoonish, but that it cartoonisly represents a racial minority that’s been treated unjustly since the beginning of white settlement in North America. As we all recognize, no similar depiction of African-Americans would be acceptable.
The Indians, however, still used it during the season, apparently to sell remaining merchandise and allow Indians fans who love the logo to give it a fond farewell.
That prompted Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports to write, “It was a welcome move, but make no mistake, it was motivated by money, not by principle.”
Well, yes. Is there anything wrong with that?
Money isn’t a wrong motivation. Bettering one’s financial condition is as morally legitimate as bettering one’s health. Money is a source of energy, just like your body is a source of energy. Whether receiving wages or running a large organization, your revenue stream is important. Money is the health of the company, and it will make compromises just as you do in your own job. Maybe the company you work at sells cigarettes or runs casinos. You work there because of the money, even if you find some of the things the company does morally wrong. You work hard for the money to provide for your family.
I don’t know what compromises I will make, and what compromises I won’t. But I can’t judge the compromises other people make. Even of rich people. Some super-billionaires may be able to afford break-even or money-losing enterprises forever and can always act on “principle.” Others need a continued revenue stream.
The balancing act for Dolan was listening to his own customers as well as the national perception of the team. An abrupt end to Chief Wahoo could have infuriated the fan base, and in Major League Baseball, the local connections, local tv contracts, and other revenue streams are more important than in the NFL, where tv contracts are negotiated nationally league-wide and all other revenue is just gravy.
Giving one year to transition out from Chief Wahoo may have been an unnecessary compromise, or it might have been in the best interests of the financial health of the Indians organization. I don’t know their financial statements.
But in the balance of local and national markets, I could see why Dolan made this choice. Compromises are ugly and they leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. But an abrupt end to Chief Wahoo could have hurt Dolan’s business. Retaining Chief Wahoo for the long term would have hurt his business as well.
I can’t object to a business making decisions based on money instead of principle. And Chief Wahoo, though too many years too late, is gone. Because of money.