Fans of team with racist mascot still too slow to embrace change

It was two years ago this week that a fan dressed as the Cleveland Indians’ “Chief Wahoo” confronted protesters outside Progressive Field in Cleveland, where the Indians were playing the first game of the year.

Peter Pattakos took the picture of Robert Roche of the American Indian Education Center and fan Pedro Rodriguez, and encouraged the two to have a meeting, he wrote on his blog then.

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.”

“It’s Cleveland pride,” the fan later told a TV reporter. “That’s all it’s about.”

Cleveland Scene wrote that the response of other fans was ugly.

It’s actually a shame for the civil Wahoo supporters that their comrades put on such an embarrassing and primitive display this afternoon. Only twice in three hours did Pro-Wahoo folks talk politely with the protesters about the root of their opposition and try to explain their own difficulties with the dehumanizing logo. (One man turned his Wahoo hat around as a little peace offering).

For the most part, though, passers-by hurled insults. A handful of boozy risk-takers sporting “Keep the Chief” tees walked directly in front of those holding signs, to taunt. Others distributed individual middle-fingers to each protester while inviting them to fuck themselves. Others launched the familiar hate speech — “Go back to the reservation,” etc.

Fast forward to yesterday, when the Indians were to hold another opening day session. Roche was back protesting, as he has for more than a decade.

And Rodriguez was there too. But he was a changed man, Cleveland Scene suggested.

This time, he came to apologize.

He expressed remorse to the group for his cultural appropriation, and apologized directly to Robert Roche, (pictured above), the local leader of the American Indian Education Center and Rodriguez’s sparring partner back in 2014.

“He still likes the name,” said Chrissy Stonebraker-Martinez. She’s from the InterReligious Task Force on Central America and attended Monday’s protest in solidarity. “But he says he will never dress that way again. It was really moving and beautiful.”

This image is making the rounds on social media today, a symbol that maybe we can all get along. Notice anything common to both pictures?

He’s wearing the same sweathshirt he wore in his confrontation two years ago; the one with the racist imagery.

(h/t: JP Rennquist)

  • ec99

    So, what has been learned from the whole nickname brouhaha? Not all “people” names are bad. Not all Indian names are bad. What distinguishes the latter? Well, at the college level, offense goes away when a tribe is paid off. Thus Seminoles and Utes are still around, Sioux aren’t. At the pro level the problem is a little trickier. Cleveland, Atlanta, Washington, and Kansas City all have generic names, no specific tribe to push money at.

    • Not sure what that has to do with the racist cartoon, which is the point of the protest.

      One can debate the name I suppose. But how one doesn’t see a racist depiction in the mascot is utterly mind boggling.

      • ec99

        There are all kinds of mascots which can be interpreted as racist, if one is so inclined: the Nebraska Cornhusker, the Notre Dame leprechaun, the Minnesota Viking.

        • Rob

          I certainly think of farmers, imaginary creatures and Northern Europeans as people that have been brutalized and demeaned by the dominant culture. Next you’ll be claiming that the names, cartoons and mascots that are so patently racist towards Native Americans are really intended to honor them.

          • ec99

            No, “honor” is just an excuse for all mascots. The question is, is racism in the eye of the beholder, or is there an objective definition?

        • Jerry

          There is one pretty major difference between your examples and chief wahoo.

          • ec99

            Only in the PC community.

          • Jerry

            Uh no. The Irish mascot was created and named by the Irish for a mostly Irish university. The Indian mascot was not created by Indians for Indians. Same for the Huskers and the Vikings. You don’t have to be PC to figure that out.

          • Rob

            Trash talk is cheap. Show us your anti-PC cred by posting a photo of yourself in a Chief Wahoo t-shirt.

          • Angry Jonny

            How about my home address on the Rez?

          • Angry Jonny

            Awesome. Care to express that viewpoint on White Earth? I double dog dare you.

          • And the community where there’s no such thing as a leprechaun, or a Viking.

        • What do you see in Chief Wahoo?

  • lindblomeagles

    You are a very talented writer, and an astute observer Bob. Look, I’d love to tell you Americans can change, and certainly, being of African American descent, it would be incorrect historically to say Americans haven’t. But, let’s look at a few things. Native Americans were present in America before the first colonists established a settlement in Virginia in 1607, and before the Spaniards established Saint Augustine and Santa Fe in the late 1500s. After approximately 430 years, America still has individuals embracing racist Native American imagery, and justifying its continued use. Native news rarely makes major network news, INCLUDING cable powerhouses like CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, or ESPN. Too many Americans express negative views about Native Americans in the Dakotas, Wisconsin, and Northern Minnesota. Change takes a lot of time, sometimes eons. I’d like to think Americans could do better, but some habits die hard Bob, real hard.

    • Kurt O

      KFAI has a Native American news show, First Person Radio, on Thursdays at 9 am. I listen to it sometimes and hearing about life from a very different perspective is informative. It’s unfortunate that media outlets only cover mascot issues and how exercising their hunting and fishing rights inconveniences white folks around Mille Lacs.

      • Matthew Becker

        Thanks for the tip, I will be tuning in.

      • lindblomeagles

        Good tip and comment Kurt O.

  • Rob

    And in the “kumbaya” photo, note also that Roche appears to be looking down at the racist images and lettering on Rodriguez’ s sweatshirt. I wonder if he asked Rodriguez when he’s planning to quit wearing it.

  • Mike Worcester

    This probably won’t be a popular opinion, but here it goes:

    Many years ago I attended a Minnesota high school that had the nickname “Warriors”. There were many schools which had that name — some still do. After I graduated they consolidated with a nearby district and decided to change their name to reflect the new district’s identity. And boy did the alumni howl.

    But here is the deal — it’s just a name. That’s it. A *name*. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    Change the name of Cleveland and they will still play baseball there. Change the DC football team name and there will still be football played there (quality not assured though), and up in Grand Forks there will still be great D-1 hockey played.

    It’s just a name. The *game* can still be, and will be, played.

    • Again, the name in Cleveland is debatable. But this post is about the mascot.

      • Mike Worcester

        I guess to me the names and mascots quite often go hand-in-hand. For example — What if Cleveland stopped using the mascot, but kept the name? Would it be any less objectionable? Not trying to be obstinate, just thinking aloud a little.

        • I think there would be a case that Indian is not the equivalent of a slur whereas Wahoo most clearly is

    • lindblomeagles

      Actually Mike, “Indians” in the context of a sports team, and “Redskins” in the context of human beings, are not just names. You and the rest of America, including me, was taught to think these two words were just names because the American power structure doesn’t want to characterize Native people as current American people. They want people like you and me to blithely believe Native American concerns and issues are all in the past and nothing we do or say should matter, least of all to Native Americans, the remnants of a lost noble culture. But Mike, it does matter, and Native Culture isn’t a lost noble culture. Their issues are still important. I remember arriving in the Twin Cities from Chicago to attend college. Everything I said ended with the word “man,” because that’s how we talked in Chicago — “What’s up man!” “Man did you see that!” One day, I used this word in this context, while talking to a female student. She quickly corrected me, preferring, strongly, to be addressed woman, not man. Like my example, to some Native Americans it is culturally and historically inaccurate to link baseball to Native Americans via the Indian name because baseball isn’t or wasn’t their national sport. La Crosse was. Moreover, the smiling Indian mascot doesn’t even appear to be taking the game seriously. “Redskins” is just downright racist. That was the name early northeastern colonists gave in contempt and as a warning to Native Americans if and when they tried to come into their communities.

  • Khatti

    Bob, I have to take issue with your title for this piece. Hardcore MPR’s have this fatuous need to couch their policies and desires in feelgood terms. “Embracing Change” is a euphemism for “Do what we require of you, you inbredded, ( apply derogatory characterization of choice here)!” I’m afraid we Inbreds are quite aware of it, and trying to be nice or civil simply adds insult to injury.

    If you think this needs to change, cool. You’re probably right–but don’t sugarcoat.

    • So your headline would be what?

      • Khatti

        Sigh…must stop posting when tired & cranky. This is not the venue. sorry.

    • wjc

      How about “Fans of teams with racists mascots are morons?”

      The sports media can help with this too. I’m not sure if the Cleveland team’s name has been OK’d by local tribes, but if the sports media would ensure that the Cleveland logo is never part of their coverage, that might help the situation. They could also refer to the Washington football team as only that, and not include the nickname or team logo in any reporting, but they don’t.

      I participated in the protest when the Washington team was last in town, and it was depressing to see so many football fans being so oblivious to the obvious racism in that team’s name. The Cleveland logo is just as bad.

      • That’s not a very good headline. First of all, there are a LOT of Indians fans who deliberately go out of their way to buy block “C” merchandise, just to send a message to ownership that a non-racist logo can be a moneymaker. That’s the language baseball owners speak.

        • wjc

          I accept that that is not a good headline, merely a reactionary one.

          My point is that if the offensive names and logos were widely ignored / suppressed by the media and by fans, the owners might figure that they could make more money by changing them. Who wouldn’t want a brand-new Cleveland Pierogis t-shirt?

          • Some newspapers — including the Strib — refused to use the word “Indians”. It had zero effect.

            A couple of years ago, those of us who bought tickets to the Indians got surveys after the season and, for the first time, the question of Chief Wahoo was on there. A few months later, the league ordered that the “C” — not the Wahoo — be the logo used in official communication and it became obvious that he was on his way out.

      • Khatti

        You neglected to mention how much jailtime they should get.

  • Angry Jonny

    This is the commodification of a culture. Bringing up examples of the Norte Dame mascot or the Vikings mascot is a straw man fallacy. When native imagery, whether of the noble savage variety or the exaggerated features charicature, is used for the financial gain of a business, individual, agency or institution, it turns the identity of natives into a mechanism of delivery that further lines the pockets of the privileged others who decided to coopt native identities for their own gain. It’s not only racist, it’s damn racist.

    • Well, first of all, the Notre Dame mascot is a leprechaun. Does anybody know a leprechaun?

      • Angry Jonny

        Well, if I did, do you think I would tell you? I think you are forgetting how leprechauns work.

    • Ryan Johnson

      So having issues with an overly Aryan, in the Nazi sense, caricature of my ancestors wearing comical and anachronistic headgear is straw-manning?

      I mean I agree that you have plenty to complain about but I don’t think cultural misappropriation is a 0-sum game. My complaints aren’t meant to diminish yours.

      But then I don’t watch sports anyway so the owners don’t really care about my opinions…

      • Angry Jonny

        I guess the straw-manning was setting up other mascots as the argument rather than the Cleveland mascot, which was what the story was about.

        • Having been a fan of the team for 50 years, this is pretty much how the debate usually goes and it goes that way because it’s absolutely undeniable that the Wahoo is an entirely racist caricature for which there isn’t a valid and logical argument for embracing a racist caricature. Thus this other stuff.