CLEVELAND >> Chief Wahoo’s farewell from the field isn’t nearly enough for the logo’s detractors.
Despite the Cleveland Indians’ decision to remove the contentious, cartoonish mascot from their caps and jersey sleeves beginning next season, there are some who feel the team is not properly addressing a deeper issue because it will continue to profit by selling merchandise featuring the red-faced symbol.
Protesters chanting “Change the name, change the logo!” marched to Progressive Field today before the Indians hosted the Kansas City Royals. The protests have become something of an annual tradition, but this year’s took on greater meaning after the Indians, with a strong push from baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, announced in January that Wahoo’s days on the field were ending.
“They still want to keep hold of what they consider as their traditions and their history and they’re not realizing that their history is basically a history of oppression,” said Philip Yenyo, executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio. “I did say previously that it’s a step in the right direction, but to continue selling this merchandise is like saying, ‘OK we realize it’s wrong, but we’re still going to make money on this.’
“It’s like rubbing salt in an old wound, a wound that’s actually 520 years old.”
The team’s decision to remove Wahoo from its uniforms came as the 2019 All-Star Game in Cleveland approaches.
And while the team’s announcement was applauded by some Native American groups, Yenyo said it has also emboldened supporters of Chief Wahoo and may have made the logo more popular than ever.
“Over the past few years, the pro-Wahoo movement has gotten even more momentum,” said Yenyo, who was joined outside the ballpark by more than two dozen protesters. “There is a local screen printing company putting out shirts that say, “Keep The Chief” and they don’t get it either. This company has also been coming up with new designs with dream catchers and eagle feathers. Those are sacred items.
“Like I’ve said before, I don’t go around desecrating the Christian cross and I don’t expect our religious or spiritual items to be desecrated either and that’s what a lot of people don’t get. They are so out of touch.”
As the protesters peacefully carried signs saying “Less Wahoo? No Wahoo!” and “Sacred Symbols Are Not Toys,” they were met with fans yelling “Save the Chief” and other comments.
Yenyo said his group was concerned about violence this year. In the past, the group has been yelled at by fans in passing cars, spat upon and physically threatened.
When the protesters first arrived at the ballpark, Yenyo used a bullhorn to speak to the group, warning them to be careful and to look out for one and other.
Then, he addressed fans heading into the ballpark’s 25th opener.
“Hello, Cleveland Indians fans,” he said. “We’re back and we’re not going anywhere.”
The Indians have been transitioning away from Chief Wahoo for years, using a block “C” as their primary logo. The team has discussed introducing a new logo to replace Wahoo, which will continue to bring in revenue this season and beyond.
Yenyo said the team has not offered to make donations to any Native American organizations, and the groups would refuse any such gesture.
“We won’t accept any money,” he said. “It would be like paying us off and that’s never going to happen. This isn’t about money. It’s never been about money. This is about our dignity and it can not, and will not be bought.”