Phil Helsel, NBC News, June 23, 2014
Amid the controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins’ team name, some Native American groups hope public outcry turns toward a different team’s symbol, more than 300 miles to the northwest: Chief Wahoo, the bright red, wide-grinning face of the Cleveland Indians baseball team.
“It’s been offensive since day one,” Robert Roche, a Chiricahua Apache and longtime opponent of the Indians’ team name and logo, told NBC News. “We are not mascots. My children are not mascots. We are people.”
Roche said his group, People Not Mascots, is preparing to file a federal lawsuit against the Indians over the team name and logo. He expects the suit to be filed by the end of July.
The Cleveland Indians declined to comment to NBC News.
Groups like People Not Mascots hope that new pressure will be applied to the Indians following last Wednesday’s decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which stripped the Redskins of its trademark and declared the team name to be “a racial slur.”
The Redskins said it will appeal Wednesday’s ruling. The team won an appeal that challenged a similar 1999 trademark ruling.
Chief Wahoo, in his current form, has been used by the Cleveland Indians for more than 60 years. The team last year began giving more prominence to an alternative logo, a block letter C, causing speculation that Wahoo is on his way out–something the team has denied.
In Cleveland, there seems to be general support for Chief Wahoo, said Mike Brandyberry, managing editor of the website Did The Tribe Win Last Night?, and any controversy about the symbol isn’t a topic of daily conversation. Last year, the site agreed to publish an essay from a fan who called for retiring Chief Wahoo, but it also offered to publish any responses from fans wanting to keep the logo.
“We didn’t receive one,” Brandyberry said. “I would say the majority of Indians fans and Clevelanders support Chief Wahoo,” but added that he personally is ambivalent about a logo change.
A movement on Twitter, #DeChief, began in March encouraging fans to remove Chief Wahoo’s likeness from hats and memorabilia on their own. Another social media campaign, #keepthechief, was created to support the logo.