The story behind the picture of sports’ racist present

If you’re on social media, there’s a pretty good chance you saw this picture, which was captured by Cleveland attorney Peter Pattakos outside Friday’s Twins-Indians game in Cleveland.

In the image Robert Roche, a Chiricahua Apache tribe member, and executive director of the American Indian Education Center in Parma, Ohio, meets Pedro Rodriguez.

Now we have the full story because Pattakos has written it on his blog.

I was on the scene yesterday with filmmaker Brian Spaeth and a small production crew to capture some Opening Day footage for a documentary about Chief Wahoo and the “Indians” name. We were about to wrap up for the day because we were afraid that the continuing rain would damage our equipment, but then we saw Rodriguez in the Eagle Avenue alley behind the outfield wall and of course had to ask him if he would speak about his costume on camera.

He agreed, and the two of us had a brief conversation in which Rodriguez communicated a lack of empathy for the perspective of the Native American protesters who find Wahoo and the “Indians” name to be dehumanizing and an illegitimate appropriation of their culture. I then asked him if he would say the same things he was saying to me to an actual Native American. He replied that he would (it would have been hard for him to have said no at that point), so I offered to introduce him to the AIM protesters, who were about 20 yards away.

He agreed to meet them, walked over with me, and was immediately confronted by Roche who explained in no uncertain terms that he did not feel “honored” by Rodriguez’s costume. A heated discussion ensued, during which Rodriguez hit on many of the common pro-Wahoo talking points, including Bob Dibiasio’s favorite, “it’s about baseball.”

At one point during the conversation I showed Rodriguez a copy of Aaron Sechrist’s artwork from the 2012 Scene cover story on the logo depicting a Chief Wahoo bobblehead next to a blackfaced lawn jockey drawn in the same style. I asked him if he’d ever show up at a baseball game in blackface, to which he replied that he wouldn’t. I then asked him why redface was any more excusable and he struggled to come up with an answer. As Allard notes in his piece, Rodriguez could only repeat that “he was an Indians fan.”

To Rodriguez’s credit, he was much more respectful to the protesters’ point of view than a great number of his fellow Wahoo fans even despite his outrageous costume, and seemed to actually be considering at some level the arguments that were presented to him. Also, he appeared to be perfectly sober, contrary to what some of the media reports have suggested. I heard that he told Goldhammer on the air that he wants to meet me for a beer. Hopefully this happens so that we can continue the conversation, and hopefully the viral reaction to the photos of the Roche/Rodriguez encounter means that we’re getting close to a time where redface is recognized as just as unacceptable as blackface, even in Cleveland.