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Cleveland: Redskins controversy revives Wahoo debate

5:40 PM, Oct 14, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- Is it time for the owners of the Cleveland Indians to retire Chief Wahoo as one of the team's symbols?

The debate is being revived in light of the nationwide controversy about the Washington Redskins' nickname. Even the president has weighed in as part of the debate over whether the NFL team should change it because some find it insensitive and racially offensive.

Bob Costas gave the Chief a mention in his halftime commentary during the Sunday Night Football game when he called the Redskins' name "an insult, a slur."

"Names like Blackhawks, Seminoles and Chippewas, while potentially problematic, can still be okay provided the symbols are appropriately respectful, which is where the Cleveland Indians, with the combination of their name and Chief Wahoo logo, have sometimes run into trouble," he said.

He did not specifically call on the team to get rid of the Wahoo symbol.

Plain Dealer columnist Mark Naymik wrote a Sunday column urging the Indians to dump the chief.

Native Americans and other groups have spend decades calling on the team to change the logo. There were arrests, lawsuits and the Chief burned in effigy. But protests have died down in recent years.

Robert Roche, a full-blooded Apache and lifelong Clevelander, has spent 40 years on the cause.

"Time moves on . Things change. But racism hasn't it's still an offensive logo...The president has weighed in on it, it pretty much opens the door about racism, " he said.

The United Church of Christ, headquartered here, has been involved with Wahoo protests and mascots perceived to be offensive nationwide.

Rev. Linda Jarmillo said the issue here remains the same and has never gone away. She thinks now is a good time to reopen discussions.

"Especially now that it's getting that much attention in Washington, it seems logical for us," she said.

Cleveland Councilman Zack Reed is trying to rally Wahoo opponents.

"In this era of being inclusive and  doing the right thing we have a team that has a logo that may not be doing the right thing," he said.

The Indians nickname is derived from Louis Francis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian who played for the Cleveland baseball team. He was the first native American to play Major League Baseball and be recognized for his heritage.

The team adopted the Indians name in 1915.

Some see the century-mark anniversary as an opportunity to revisit the issue.

The Indians now have three different logos: a block letter C and the script Indians in addition to the Chief.

"We believe the logo is an individual perception. We believe when people look at our logo, they think baseball," said team spokesman Bob DiBiasio, who added "we understand there are sensitivities."

With the Redskins protest intensifying the issue, expect more debate about the appropriateness of the comic book character, red-skinned, smiling chief in the days to come.


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