Since the early 70's, Opening Day here has usually meant the renewal of an emotional debate about the future of Chief Wahoo

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CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Indians Opening Day is a time of celebration and hope that this season will bring lots of thrills and a trip to the playoffs and maybe the World Series, that things will be better and different.

But since the early 70s, Opening Day here has usually meant the renewal of an emotional debate about the future of Chief Wahoo.

Robert Roche's taken part in many of those protests over the past 40-plus years.

He's a local native American leader, a Chiracauwa Apache.

"It's time to do the the right thing. ... It's about respecting a race of people and their spirituality that's upset by this goofy outrageous logo," he said.

There were erroneous reports earlier this year that the chief was being retired.

He's not.

But over the past 11 years, the team has shifted its primary symbols to letters I and C. Of 11 new banners surrounding Progressive Field, only three players are wearing the chief.

Team President Mark Shapiro said, "From last year to this year there is no change. ... We have a kind of dual reality. We are sympathetic to those who find it offensive, and we listen to fans who find this to be a real bond."

The Plain Dealer has written two recent editorials calling for the chief to go. Crain's Cleveland Business wrote one first.

Councilman Zack Reed has enlisted support from several council members.

He is expected to speak on the floor of City Council about this tonight.

"That private business is an ambassador for the city of Cleveland. ... It's hurting us economically and it's hurting our image. ... More and more we are moving away from that logo. ... The question is why not now?" he asked.

Indians merchandise offers fans both chief and no-chief alternatives. The team does not order specific items but chooses what to accept from vendors for its team shop.

The three top-selling caps have C's. A chief version is No. 4. Major League Baseball and networks now use the block C as the team's official logo.

Asked if there was some specific plan to gradually phase out the chief, Shapiro said, "There's no backroom plan, no agenda, no conspiracy. We're continuing to evaluate what's the right thing to do and what resonates with our fans."

Asked if that meant the chief would be part of the team's marketing and media strategy for the "foreseeable future," Shapiro declined to be more specific.

Online surveys show respondents want to keep the chief by about a four-to-one margin. "Save the chief" T-shirts are big sellers for shirt maker George Vlosich at his Tremont store.

Roche believes a day will come when Wahoo is going, going, gone.

"We love the game, and we love our team. ... We are not a mascot. My children are not mascots. ... There's definitely a change. It's a slow process, I hope to see it before I die," he said.

One of the team's slogans for 2014 is "unfinished business," a sort-of pledge to go all the way in the playoffs.

But for Roche and other native Americans, the battle to retire the chief is unfinished business, too.

He will be protesting at Progressive Field Friday on Opening Day.

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