Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images(CLEVELAND) — Everywhere the Cleveland Indians go, so go team mascot Chief Wahoo and the logo that critics slam as derogatory.
The Indians are in the 2016 World Series and, as expected, some Native American groups immediately planned protests against the team’s use of the Chief Wahoo logo. The Cleveland American Indian Movement, for instance, has posted a call to rally against the mascot on its website.
“The World Series begins in Cleveland this Tuesday, October 25,” it reads. “Join Cleveland American Indian Movement and the Native community as we gather at the stadium in protest of Cleveland Baseball’s use of the ‘Indians’ team name and the despicable ‘Wahoo’ logo. Newspapers and broadcasters from around the world will be there, so now is the time to let your voice be heard!”
The logo’s grinning face, which critics have compared to the kinds of racist images used to dehumanize Jews and African-Americans, became the primary face of the team just before it won its most recent World Series championship back in 1948, according to Chris Creamer’s SportsLogos.net.
The mascot, with its cherry-red skin and iconic grin that appeared to convey some combination of naughtiness and foolishness, eventually evolved into Chief Wahoo.
The battle to stop the usage of Wahoo, which bears certain similarities to the struggle to get the Washington Redskins of the NFL to shed their name, has already seeped into the team’s electric performance in the playoffs, casting a small shadow over its success.
Douglas Cardinal, a Native American activist who lives in Canada, failed in his efforts to bar the Indians from using their name and logo prior to Game 3 against the Toronto Blue Jays after an Ontario judge blocked his legal challenge.
MLB acknowledged Cardinal’s criticism of the mascot while trying to keep the issue out of court by saying that the league welcomes “a thoughtful and inclusive dialogue to address these concerns outside the context of litigation.”
But the very public pushback against the team’s name and Wahoo logo is unlikely to go away any time soon. Several op-ed articles about Wahoo have run prior to the start of the series, and for decades, Jerry Howarth, the team’s radio play-by-play voice, has refused to say the name “Indians” when calling games.
Sundance, the executive director of the Cleveland American Indian Movement, and a member of the Muscogee people, has been protesting both the team’s name and logo since 1970, and called Wahoo “a symbol of genocide,” referring to the often-brutal colonization of Native American land by European settlers.
He noted that Wahoo’s face is a caricature, a kind of portrayal that is frequently used to “highlight deficiencies” in others.
“Wahoo is smiling,” Sundance said, “which to me is a sign that he’s approving of everything that’s happening. But as a native person I don’t approve. What we’re talking about is the representation of the original people of this land by their colonizers.”
As the 2016 regular season approached, the team’s owner, Paul Dolan announced that the team’s primary logo would be a “C,” but that it was not abandoning Chief Wahoo. Indeed, as Deadspin noted, the team has chosen to wear the Wahoo version of the caps throughout the playoffs so far.
“I’m not interested in being someone’s good luck charm,” Sundance said of the playoff run.
Sundance said he is a baseball fan, and that he looks forward to the day when he can watch the Cleveland team without seeing the name Indians, or Chief Wahoo’s face. ABC News reached out to the team’s front office regarding its decision to use the Wahoo logo, but did not immediately receive a response. Major League also did not immediately respond with a comment about the controversy.
The timing of the Indians’ return to the Fall Classic, and the controversy surrounding their name and logo, carries an added degree of weight right now because of ongoing protests at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation in North Dakota over the Dakota Access Pipleline.
Sundance said that the issues surrounding Wahoo and the protests at Standing Rock are related.
“We need to be allowed to have control of our own identity,” he said.
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