The Cleveland Indians may have demoted Chief Wahoo to "secondary status" a few years ago, but the team's mascot and name are "utterly inappropriate and racist," said CBC Radio pop culture critic Jesse Wente ahead of the team's American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays.

As the two teams get ready to open the ALCS on Friday, the issue of Indigenous names and images being used by sports teams has once again come to the fore.


CBC pop culture critic Jesse Wente called on reporters not to use the Cleveland Indians' full name in their reporting, because of its racist connotations. (Submitted: TIFF)

Wente, a life-long baseball fan, noted that in recent years Cleveland has been phasing out the Chief Wahoo logo. It was removed from the team's road cap in 2011 and the home batting helmet in 2013, according to ESPN.

"I would suggest that's because they know that their name and their mascot is utterly inappropriate and racist," Wente told Metro Morning.

"But they can't yet change it."

He noted that while college and community-level sports teams have started changing names that contain Indigenous language and imagery, owners of pro teams have resisted such moves.

At the beginning of this season, Cleveland owner Paul Dolan told a local newspaper that the Chief Wahoo logo had been officially demoted to secondary status. However, it will remain a part of the team.

"[We have] no plans to get rid of Chief Wahoo. It is part of our history and legacy," Dolan told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"We do have empathy for those who take issue with it. We have minimized the use of it and we'll continue to do what we think is appropriate."

Wente: It's 'utterly inappropriate and racist'5:27

This weekend, the team's senior director of communications said Cleveland will "continue to research" the feelings around the logo before making any change. 

"We are very cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the conversation — our fans' deep, long-lasting attachment to the memories associated with Chief Wahoo and those who are opposed to its use," Curtis Danburg told Ohio's Akron Beacon Journal.

Dan Snyder, owner of the NFL's Washington Redskins, has said he is not considering a team name change, despite public outcry.

After Cleveland beat the Boston Red Sox on Monday to advance to the league championship, and Wente's appearance on CBC's Metro Morning, the hashtag #notyourmascot began trending in Toronto, as did another hashtag: #ClevelandNotIndians.

Wente says the coming ALCS will spark "yet another conversation" with his children about the team name, including some context and history.

"Ultimately what I'll say to them is sort of the same thing that I'll say to you, Matt, which is it's just inappropriate for these sports mascots to have it and it doesn't honour us," Wente said.

He noted that when the Cleveland team changed its name in 1915, both the Canadian and United States governments were engaged in assimilationist policies, including removing First Nations residents from their land and banning indigenous ceremonies. The residential school program in Canada was also well underway.

"So what I would say to my kids, and what I would say to everyone, is that given that history what do you think that mascot and name is actually honouring?" Wente said.

"Because I'm not sure it's honouring what everyone now believes it is, because it's certainly not honouring us or that legacy."

Wente agrees with calls on social media for reporters to just use Cleveland, and for NFL reporters to just use Washington, in their coverage of the team's games.

As a result, he said, "I think increasingly those logos will be meaningless."

It would also help to "take away the financial incentive for these logos to persist." Sports teams make money selling merchandise, and regularly alter logos, he noted.

"What a great opportunity it would be not just to have a learning moment, but to make some money, because we all know that's what you really care about," Wente said. "Change your logo and sell your fans a whole bunch of new uniforms with a mascot that's based on a bird, like in grand baseball tradition."

With files from Metro Morning