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

Photo: Peter Pattakos

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?

Photo: Cleveland Scene

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

(h/t: JP Rennquist)