3:33 Sports Short #42 // Chief Wahoo by Pete Beatty

Filed under: 3:33 Sports Shorts, Blog |

Today's Sports Shorts explore fandom in all its complexity. Pete Beatty's piece below interrogates what it means to be a fan of a team that has for its mascot an abhorrent and racist caricature. Claire Polders' "Playing the Sports Fan" (click here to read) explores the "seductive but necessary illusion" one must accept in order to enjoy participating in a sporting match as a fan.

A 28-foot-tall neon Native American baseball player greets visitors to the museum where my father works. Chief Wahoo wears pinstripes and bats left-handed. He is frozen mid-swing, lifting one of his size-48 cleats toward an incoming non-existent fastball.

Wahoo’s swing mechanics are flawed: hips flying open, hands choked up too far. He should let the ball get deeper into the hitting zone. But his front foot is already and forever bailing out. Weak contact or a swing-and-miss seem the most likely outcomes, if Chief Wahoo wasn’t a static symbol, if he ever finished.

Chief Wahoo is a racist caricature, with brick-red skin, a hooked nose, bucked teeth, and a feather in his headband instead of a batting helmet. Chief Wahoo does not practice safe baseball.

His 28-foot expression is a relic, and lives where Chief Wahoo only belongs, in a history museum. But his other versions live everywhere, on uniforms and plastic giveaway crap and shirts. He is an instrument of everyday meaning.

Chief Wahoo is the logo of the big-league baseball team from my hometown. I root for this team in the same way I root for friends and family and self, despite knowing that they are not me, not Cleveland. And because of this dissonance, the Indians become me, become Cleveland, despite Chief Wahoo.

People hate Chief Wahoo. I hate Chief Wahoo. The Cleveland Indians Baseball Company, Inc. does not love Chief Wahoo, and slowly buries him under blander, better symbols.

People love Chief Wahoo. Most Indians fans want him to stay. People resent contempt for Wahoo. People make shirts that say Keep the Chief.

People see Wahoo as ugly, cruel, insensitive, 28 feet tall, neon, Cleveland.

People see Wahoo as proud, themselves, their hopes, 28 feet tall, neon, Cleveland.

If he ever finished, we could mark our scorebooks with whatever Chief Wahoo did. Instead we watch.

Pete Beatty is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. His writing has appeared in or on Believer.com, GQ.com, Trop, Byliner, Cleveland Scene, Belt Magazine, Pitchers and Poets, Deadspin, Vice Sports, The Classical, and Vulture.com.