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Some logos fade away, Chief among them

6/26/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

On the Mark — By Craig Marks

Ryan Svetichan, of Phoenix, shows the back of his “Save the Chief” T-shirt.
Photo: Craig Marks
Back in the late 1970s, the only thing Chief Wahoo needed to be saved from was his own dangerous disregard for basic household safety rules.

When the Cleveland Municipal Stadium speakers would play the “charge!” trumpet call, it would be accompanied by scoreboard animation of a smiling Chief Wahoo getting electrocuted by a wall socket. Maybe not the best cartoon, but as “charge!” is often associated with a cavalry attack against Indians, you could see the challenge the animators were up against.

In 2014, Chief Wahoo’s future is dependent on more than his ability to survive self-inflicted electrical shock. Last week, the U.S. Patent Office voided eight trademarks belonging to the Washington Redskins, ruling the name “Redskins” is disparaging to Native Americans. It left many to wonder what would happen if the Cleveland Indians’ logo were similarly challenged in court.

Ryan Svetichan, a Youngstown native now living in Arizona, wants the logo to stick around. The 30-something Svetichan is an office/facilities manager in Phoenix but is spending time this summer selling “Save the Chief” T-shirts on a corner near Progressive Field. I ran into him as he was closing up shop after the Tribe’s June 19 game.

Svetichan said he sold 12 shirts that day and “40 to 50” for the week. The shirts, which have a red feather on the front and “Save the Chief” on the back, not surprisingly solicited comments from fans.

“A couple of people walking by said I should bury those things, and others said some things I can’t repeat,” he said. “But I hear both sides. I’d say about 75 percent are on my side.”

Svetichan was asked how he would feel if Chief Wahoo disappeared.

“Personally, it’s not a deal breaker, it’s not live or die,” he said. “I’d be a little upset because it’s something I grew up with. Everywhere you go in the country, people know it. We’ve sold these shirts on the reservation and at Indians spring training, and they love it there. I get mixed emotions on it, but for the most part, they like it.”

Inside Progressive Field, Chief Wahoo is Waldo, always around but not easy to find. He’s on one of the Indians’ cap designs and on its uniforms, but the block C logo is what’s prevalent at the ballpark. The days when Chief Wahoo was everywhere, from paper cups to candy bars to scoreboard cartoons, are long gone.

And the Redskins ruling will hasten the logo’s exit. While the name of Washington’s football team won’t change anytime soon — lawyers are already digging in — a similar patent lawsuit focusing on Chief Wahoo could lead to changes at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

I can imagine Indians ownership, their voices somber but maybe with a hint of relief, saying, “We’re not like Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and have money to burn. It came down to either fighting this in court or having the money to buy a quality left-handed reliever, and the choice was easy. That’s not to say we’re buying a quality left-handed reliever or even a barely competent left-handed reliever, but we wanted to have the money to do so if the mood hits us.”

Outside the ballpark, “Bring Back the Chief” T-shirts will be sold. The radio talk shows will eat up the controversy, at least until the latest Johnny Football news. Then the story will move to the back pages.

When I hear “charge!” at the ballpark, I still think of Chief Wahoo getting zapped by a wall socket. If and when news comes that the Chief is dropped by the Indians, I doubt we’ll be surprised, but if we are, we can only hope to handle the shock as well as he used to.

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