Opening Day demonstrators say the Cleveland baseball mascot has got to go
Written by Connie N. Larkman
April 3, 2014
It's an annual rite of spring. Cleveland baseball fans by the thousands flock to Progressive Field for Opening Day, held this year on Friday, April 4, to welcome their pro team and the game of baseball back to the city. And once again this year, as they have for the 20 years since the ballpark opened, a group of United Church of Christ representatives join others who stand in witness outside the gates, in protest of the Cleveland Indians mascot, Chief Wahoo.
"The United Church of Christ has a long tradition of interrupting racism whenever it manifests itself in our communities," said the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of UCC Justice and Witness Ministries.
The grinning Native American character has long been seen as demeaning, offensive and a bone of contention to the indigenous people who call Northeast Ohio home, and to the people at the United Church of Christ national headquarters, just steps away from Progressive Field.
For more than two decades, the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance, a coalition of community organizations and activists in Northeast Ohio committed to enhancing and protecting the cultural human rights and heritage rights of indigenous people, has been staging annual protests on Opening Day in Cleveland, to raise awareness about the issue of racism manifested by the team mascot. The ‘Change the Name, Change the Logo' demonstration this year, which will start as a march to the ballpark hours before the first pitch, has the support of the UCC, and a few local lawmakers as well.
"The indigenous people of our community have spoken," said Jaramillo. "They are offended by the Chief Wahoo logo and its dehumanizing characterization of a noble people. We therefore stand in solidarity and call for the Cleveland baseball team to change its mascot."
Ferne Clements, who spent 22 years working for justice at the UCC before she retired in August 2013, has long been involved in the effort to lose the mascot. She was one of the representatives of the Committee of 500 Years in Cleveland City Hall chambers on Monday, April 1 to support Councilman Zack Reed, who is calling for the city to ban the display of the mascot on public property. At the council meeting, held the same day the pro team kicked off the 2014 season, Reed raised the issue before the 16 other council members and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, stating that his office has been flooded with phone calls and emails by people who see the chief as a racist and demeaning icon. Two other councilmen agreed with Reed's argument.
"We are excited to have three of Cleveland's city council members stand up against Chief Wahoo," said Clements. "The time for the name and logo to be changed is here. In 2015, it will be 100 years since the sports writers in Cleveland chose that name. This name and logo create an environment for the fans to make a mockery of what is sacred to the indigenous people. I would like to see Cleveland become the leader in changing the racist images."
While Cleveland's professional baseball team is sensitive to the issue and consistently uses other logo alternatives on the players' uniforms and on banners around the field, Indians representatives are not talking about retiring the Native American mascot.