By Tom Withers
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND: As excited baseball fans, many of them wearing Cleveland’s smiling Chief Wahoo logo, headed into Progressive Field for Friday’s home opener, a smaller group stood by unable to share their enthusiasm.
Holding hand-painted signs that read, “We Are Not Honored,” and “Our Children Are Not Mascots,” a contingent of Native Americans and some of their supporters demonstrated against the Indians’ use of their red-faced Wahoo logo.
The protesters, who have been gathering outside the ballpark’s entrances on opening day for years to voice their displeasure about the team’s use of the long-standing logo, stayed behind barricades as Indians fans walked by for the game against the Minnesota Twins.
Robert Roche, executive director of the American Indian Education Center, is adamant the team should abolish the logo permanently.
“The issue is simple,” said the 66-year-old Roche, his hair braided with white threads. “We are not mascots. I’m nobody’s mascot. My children are not mascots. It mocks us as a race of people. It mocks our religion.”
Roche and other organizers believe the protest is gaining support because of the growing national debate over sports mascots. The Washington Redskins have received harsh criticism for their nickname, and several colleges and high schools have made changes to their logos, mascots and nicknames.
“If you’re looking at the average opening day fan, actually I see a little bit of a difference,” said Sundance, a member of the Muscogee tribe, who has been protesting on opening day since 2008. “I see that there are a lot of people who have refrained from wearing Wahoo much more than in previous opening days, but I also see that there are a lot more people who have come out with the most bigoted Wahoo that they could find.”
There wasn’t much exchange between the groups in the hours leading up to the first pitch. However, a few fans yelled out derogatory comments toward the protesters, who either ignored them or disarmed them with compliments.
The Indians have made Chief Wahoo less visible in recent years, even adding a “Block C” to their inventory of logos. Roche, though, said the team’s efforts to minimize Wahoo “are a facade.”
Sundance finds more than the Indians’ logo offensive.
“We want the logo gone. We want the team name changed,” he said. “You can’t do one without the other. There is this propaganda around Cleveland that somehow they are honoring us by having a team named the Indians and the Wahoo logo. So the tide is turning, the wind is changing. They feel that perhaps the Wahoo logo is not honoring us, but somehow the team name is and they haven’t listened to the message.”
Roche feels the movement to abolish Wahoo has grown.
“I do see a change, a slow change,” he said. “It’s progressively happening. The young people are more in tune to it, where a lot of these older people grew up with it and so did their parents. We have nothing against the game. I know it will change in time. I hope it changes before I die.”