TORONTO — An Ontario judge hearing arguments on an attempt to bar the Cleveland Indians from using their team name and "Chief Wahoo" logo during Monday's night playoff game in Toronto asked the plaintiff's lawyer how the game would be played if the name and logo didn't appear.
The legal challenge by indigenous activist Douglas Cardinal comes on the same day the team plays the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series in Toronto.
The long-standing logo, which appears on some team caps and jerseys, depicts a grinning, red-faced cartoon with a feather headband.
Lawyer Monique Jilesen told Ontario Superior Court Justice Tom McEwen the game could be played with spring training uniforms that don't carry the name or "Chief Wahoo" logo. Jilesen said the club was informed of this Sunday, and there is no attempt to stop the game.
"Using a racially discriminatory caricature is a violation of the Ontario human rights code," Jilesen told the judge.
At least 27 lawyers representing the Cleveland Indians, Major League Baseball and others, including the plaintiffs, attended the hearing, which was moved to a larger court room to accommodate the crowd. Michael Swinwood, one of Cardinal's lawyers, said the judge will rule before Monday night's game.
Major League Baseball said it "appreciates the concerns" of those who find the name and logo "offensive."
"We would welcome a thoughtful and inclusive dialogue to address these concerns outside the context of litigation," the league said in a statement. "Given the demands for completing the League Championship Series in a timely manner, MLB will defend Cleveland's right to use their name that has been in existence for more than 100 years."
Cardinal's lawyers asked the court to bar the usage of the name and logo by the team, MLB and Toronto team owner Rogers Communications, which broadcasts the game in Canada.
Cardinal believes the team shouldn't be allowed to wear their regular jerseys, the logo shouldn't be broadcast and the team should be referred to as "the Cleveland team."
"It's quite obviously a derogatory, cartoonish representation of an indigenous person," Swinwood said. "The whole concept of how it demeans native people is essentially his concern."
Swinwood said the legal challenge is a high-profile opportunity to bring awareness to the racism aboriginal people face in North America.
Indians spokesman Curtis Dansburg said the team is focused on the playoffs and "will not comment any further on matters that distract from our pursuit on the field."
Rogers Communications spokesman Aaron Lazarus said his organization understands that the Cleveland name and logo is a concern for a number of Canadians but said the playoff game is important to baseball fans.
"Punishing fans by blocking the broadcast of the games doesn't seem like the right solution and it would be virtually impossible to broadcast the games without seeing the Cleveland team name and logo on the field, in the stands and in the stadium," Lazarus said.
The Indians dropped Wahoo as their primary logo two years ago, switching to a block "C'', and reduced the logo's visibility. However, one of the caps the Indians wear at home has the "Wahoo" logo on its front and Cleveland's jerseys remain adorned with the Wahoo logo on one sleeve.
Mark Shapiro, a former Cleveland Indians president and current Blue Jays president, has promoted use of the other logo, the simple C. He said last week the Wahoo logo "personally bothered" him but said the people of Cleveland thought differently. Shapiro was asked about it after Blue Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth said he refuses to use the team name after getting a letter from an aboriginal person saying such terms were deeply offensive.
The NFL's Washington Redskins have received harsh criticism for their nickname, and many universities and high schools have made changes to logos, mascots and nicknames that depict Native Americans, a once common tradition throughout the U.S.