How the Peoria Chiefs long ago moved away from Native American imagery
PEORIA — The Peoria Chiefs were ahead of the curve when it came to issues regarding the use of Native American imagery with their name and logo.
We are reminded of their journey as the Atlanta Braves starting Monday night begin play in the NLCS for the first time since 2001.
For the Chiefs, the transition was slick and creative. They didn't even have to change their name.
"We re-branded years ago," Chiefs minority owner and former longtime team president Rocky Vonachen said. "We have nothing in our logo that points to Native Americans anymore. Our chief is a fire chief. Our mascot, Homer, is a firehouse dog.
"We never really had any protests or concerns from our fans or people in the community about our name and logo. I feel we met any potential concerns when we changed to the fire chief."
The NFL’s former Washington Redskins this season became the Washington Football Club. The Cleveland Indians have already ditched their Chief Wahoo logo and announced they will consider a name change. The Illinois General Assembly has a proposed bill requiring high school teams who are using Native American imagery to get the blessings of a Tribe and offer cultural teachings.
The Braves? They told season ticket holders in July that they will not change their name, citing pride in its history, tradition and representation of Native Americans.
The MLB team did, however, concede that it is looking at the use of "the chop" popularized at their games by fans going back to the Deion Sanders era.
They won't have to worry about that right now, with COVID-19 restrictions keeping spectators out of stadiums.
The Peoria Chiefs replaced their original team name — Suns — under Pete Vonachen's ownership in 1984, and introduced an American Native-themed logo.
That logo was a warrior chief wearing a head dress, used from 1985-1994. The warrior was replaced by a baseball caricature wearing a head dress from 1995-2001.
Then Dozer Park opened in 2002 and the Chiefs logo shifted toward its parent club, the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a depiction of a redbird, wearing a headband with feathers sticking up in the back.
That remained through the 2004 season, after which the team became a Chicago Cubs farm club. In 2005 the Chiefs re-defined their name as representing a fire department chief. Their logo became a firehouse dog — a dalmatian — and the mascot was a dog named Homer.
From 2005-12 the team logo was a snarling firehouse dog swinging a bat with a "C" on its sleeve representing the Cubs.
When the Chiefs went back to a Cardinals affiliation in 2013, they kept the logo and simply dropped the "C."
"We just felt back then (in 2005) it was time for a change," Rocky Vonachen said. "I always thought it was just going to be a matter of time before we had to do that.
"The team was proactive in understanding and respecting Indian culture."
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.