Lovable or Horrifying? Wahoo According to Dolanby Liz Heron and Adrian Leung
Liz Heron: What is your official stance on Chief Wahoo?
Larry Dolan: My official stance on Chief Wahoo is he is the symbol of the Cleveland Indians. I think he represents the Indians very well and we expect him to stay on.
Adrian Leung: How do you like being a Trustee?
LD: It was a curiosity, because most of the Trustees on the Board are alumni of the university and only actually two of us are not. I was surprised that they would have any interest in me. But I've known of Oberlin for a long time, and the uniqueness of Oberlin has always been a matter of curiosity and appeal. I thought it would be a life experience to be a Trustee of a college that has that type of open-mindedness about the whole curriculum, student life, lots of things I wouldn't like, but we can have dialogue about them and resolve them and that's what is compelling.
AL: What is it that you think you might be able to bring to Oberlin College?
LD: That's an easy question to ask. I don't know if I can single out a specific response. I have not been the most faithful attendee at all the Trustee meetings, scheduling being what it is, but it's a selfish response I would have. I'm really looking at what I can get out of it, and that would be the opportunity to stay in tune with the issues as they develop in contemporary life. You guys are right on the cutting edge of those issues. I hope in time I will be able to make a contribution to the school of one form.
LH: What effect might the Oberlin community have on the use of [Chief] Wahoo?
LD: It's an interesting issue. Frankly, I wondered where you had been on this issue because I had some reason to believe that it might come up earlier in my term, because I'm only going to be a one-term trustee, given the age circumstances. My position on Wahoo, as I've recited it to you, is sort of an early front-line stance of my position. Wahoo's been there a long time. [There have] been rather consistent, although small, comments and criticisms about it. When something exists as long as Wahoo has, and has been attacked for that same length of time, you expect a body of facts and criticism that gives justice to the idea that maybe it ought to be renewed. What I hear is [what] I call black letter material: "Aww, it's offensive to this group or that group." And again, I'm in no position to say it's not. But I don't give any anecdotal evidence that it is and I pick up anecdotal evidence to the contrary easily. [I recently looked] at a Southwest book, a tourist book, showing various life around that community, and I see a gathering of Native Americans on an issue totally unrelated to what we're discussing. One of the folks, a Native American Indian in attendance at that session [was] wearing an Indians hat with a Wahoo figure on it. I'm confused. To answer your question directly, it might be of interest to these young people if they thought about reasons other than, "Oh well, that looks bad, therefore I'm against it." If they have some specific example of why it's offensive, I'd be interested in hearing that because I don't want to support something that is in fact offensive. But I tell you as a lawyer, you try to make a case. You've made a lousy case today. You have not sustained anything close to your burden at getting someone to make a change of the significance that you're talking about. If I may go on, do you go to Indians ballgames?
AL: No. But I've been to other ballgames.
LD: But you've got to go to an Indians game to see the scope and the depth of Wahoo as a part of the Indians' presentation. You see 43,000 people there, and a large percent of them, over 50, have some Indians paraphernalia they're wearing, proudly depicting the character of Wahoo. And these are mainly thoughtful people who put this on without a thought that they might be offending someone. I see the Vice President of the United States - I hope he's the Vice President - Dick Cheney, down in Youngstown campaigning. And he chose to put on an Indians jacket to show how local he was with the Wahoo Indians fans. So I'm concerned that people would say that I would be any part of anything that would be derogatory to any group, regardless of size. Maybe you have something that could change my mind.
LH: Is the strength of the argument more important than the size of the protest?
LD: Yeah, it would be. I know something about protests, and you can whip a group of non-thoughtful people to come up and protest anything. Look at West Palm Beach. They have the TV cameras show up, rolled on the people out there protesting, they're protesting every night. Relatively small. So I'm not impressed by numbers.
AL: What are your thoughts on the fact that Native Americans themselves have said they are offended [by Chief Wahoo]?
LD: Native Americans have come out and they say some things that would be rather disturbing, but no chapter and verse. And there are Native Americans all over the country who are either indifferent to the matter or have exhibited support for it. If I may draw an analogy in my own background and experience, I went to the University of Notre Dame, and at Notre Dame, they're called the "Fighting Irish." Now, that could be complimentary or not, depending on your own background and experience. Wahoo is a caricature which is lovable, or he could be horrifying, depending on your background. Notre Dame has a caricature, a little pixie guy, like this [putting dukes up] in fighting mode. In the Irish, there's a curse having to do with drinking and that's ruined many Irish families and the drinking takes the form of fighting. Stupid senseless quarreling men end up fighting because they've had too much to drink. Well, we were Notre Dame's Fighting Irish, and we have this caricature. The bulk of people who have devotion to Notre Dame don't see it that way, but some do. Now those who do, I believe under those circumstances...I would expect them not to endorse the University, not to attend their games, not to go to the University, certainly not to buy the paraphernalia. I don't think it gives them a right to say to the large majority that "you're offensive." Now whether that is relative to the North American Indian, I don't know. It certainly would be inappropriate if all North American Indians or a considerable percentage of the population of the North American Indians were opposed to Wahoo as a caricature. That simply isn't the case. More recently, some more active people have made reference to it being a racial slur. That makes me angry. I know a racial slur when I see it, or I hear it and so do most people. When you see people wearing that caricature proudly all over the place...these are largely thoughtful people. They wouldn't begin to wear something that was a racial slur. It's not a racial slur. I take great offense that anyone would suggest that. But I do accept that it can be offensive to a group of Native Americans. But it's not unlike the Irish family. It's offensive to some, not to others. That does not persuade me to make a change. I would certainly expect and understand why they would not want to buy the paraphernalia, but I don't understand that that gives them the right to say to the majority of the people who don't have that same point of view that they shouldn't condone it.
LH: Do you have any plans to meet with students?
LD: I do, as a matter of fact. Tentatively, we're meeting with a group on next Friday [later changed to Tuesday -ed.] in the early afternoon. I'll come back out and I hope that I hear thoughtful expressions and know why it truly is something we should do something about and not just loud screams and hollers telling me to do something about it, because the latter will do you no good, or do them no good.
AL: Do you enjoy the other Trustees on the Board?
LD: Yeah, I do, for reasons I indicated before. There's nothing more important than how we go about the process of educating people. Being on this Board, unfortunately, I'm being more passive than I'd like, but I am exposed to the other Board membersÉ The cross section of the membership of this Board...These are people with varying backgrounds, and they have a lot to contribute. Just participating in dialogue among them, I just always feel good when I leave.
AL: What is it specifically that you like about running/owning a baseball team?
LD: [There are] lots of things I like about it. The fundamental thing is not unlike the Oberlin experience. When you get to be a certain age, you can decide at that juncture, "Well, I've done it," and live on your memories. It's challenging; it takes me places I've never been before; it keeps you looking forward. You may not have great appreciation of that now, but in time, it will come. As you may or may not know, we've - I'm tooting my own horn a little bit there - we've given the owner's box up more than we used to do, and we make it available to students who are in neighboring schools under the thesis that you can get your honors students in and they can sit out in right field -that's one thing. But when these young people come in, particularly if they're African Americans, and they sit in the owner's box in a group, well that's all an entirely different statement for a ball club. It's community involvement, and we're very much into that. It's very important to us. The city of Cleveland is a small town in terms of cities, and baseball is larger than life. You know in Chicago, or even out in Los Angeles, baseball's one thing of many that goes on. In Cleveland, it's everything. So what you do makes a difference. It frankly bothers me when I see protestors out there, every opening day. Invariably in the last few days, they want to go to the court to say they ought to be able to protest closer to where the folks are. Now, people who are serious about what they're about don't do it that way. It's difficult for me to give them a whole lot of credence when they just show up, television cameras are there, they do their thing, and they're gone. I'm not encouraging them to come back, you understand, but if we're going to have a possible dialogue, they need to understand where we're coming from.
LH: Do you think you're accessible enough [for a possible dialogue]?
LD: No, no I'm not, and I make no effort to be because I don't think the burden is on me. Now if that group wanted to come to me and say, "Look, this is wrong, and this is why it's wrong," then we'll have dialogue. But that has never happened.
LH: If they wanted to do that, how would you suggest they go about it?
LD: I candidly don't think they would [do that] because I don't think they can make their case. Remember: I don't think it's wrong. Now, I've never seen evidence to say it's "wrong" [as opposed to] "right." I can understand where they're coming from. I can feel, look at that caricature and say, "It's offensive. It looks silly, degrading to North American Indians." I would have no hesitation about that. As I might look at that silly little elf at the University of Notre Dame prancing around. If I felt that way, and I don't in either case, I'd have nothing to do with it. I feel like I'm repeating myself. If they feel that way, then let them protest. But if they want me to change that, think about it, what it actually means for the Cleveland Indians to change their [mascot], they better come with a lot more ammunition than that.
AL: I notice you made an analogy to the elf of Notre Dame. Some make analogies [between Chief Wahoo and] Black Sambo's, Aunt Jemima, that sort of thing. What do you think of those arguments?
LD: Well, I don't qualify. I remember Aunt Jemima on the syrup. I never gave it a thought. I can also remember being down South when I was old enough to really have a thought and seeing "white owned" or "color owned" signs and not giving it a thought. Maybe that's the little part that bothers me. That's why maybe I'm talking to you. Am I missing something? I've exactly laid out where I'm coming from and what my thought process is. Maybe if this group comes to this meeting with the idea of educating me...who knows where it might go? I would hope that maybe some of the things I say to you might give them some thought. Are they right? Do they have the right to stand up and say that they want me to do something, that they have the information to achieve that? They might have thought to themselves, "Hey, I don't ever want to go to an Indians game." That's their right.
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