2014-04-05 06:01 AM
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Native Americans and their supporters demonstrated outside the opening home game of the Cleveland Indians on Friday, demanding that the baseball team abolish its "Chief Wahoo" logo.
The long-standing logo, which appears on some team caps and jerseys, depicts a grinning, red-faced cartoon with a feather headband.
Behind barricades outside Progressive Field, the protesters held hand-painted signs that read, "We Are Not Honored," and "Our Children Are Not Mascots." Indians fans excited about a new season of Major League Baseball streamed by for the game against the Minnesota Twins, many of them wearing the Wahoo logo.
Robert Roche, executive director of the American Indian Education Center, is adamant the team should abolish the logo permanently.
"The issue is simple," said the 66-year-old Roche, his hair braided with white threads. "We are not mascots. I'm nobody's mascot. My children are not mascots. It mocks us as a race of people. It mocks our religion."
Roche and other organizers believe the protest is gaining support because of the growing U.S. debate over sports mascots. The NFL's Washington Redskins football team has received harsh criticism for its 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.
"If you're looking at the average opening day fan, actually I see a little bit of a difference," said Sundance, a member of the Muscogee tribe, who has been protesting on baseball's opening day since 2008. "I see that there are a lot of people who have refrained from wearing Wahoo much more than in previous opening days, but I also see that there are a lot more people who have come out with the most bigoted Wahoo that they could find."
There wasn't much exchange between the groups in the hours leading up to the first pitch. However, a few fans yelled out derogatory comments toward the protesters, who either ignored them or disarmed them with compliments.
The Indians have made Chief Wahoo less visible in recent years, even adding a "Block C" for Cleveland to their inventory of logos. Roche, though, said the team's efforts to minimize Wahoo "are a facade."
Sundance finds more than the Indians' logo offensive.
"We want the logo gone. We want the team name changed," he said.
Roche feels the movement to abolish Wahoo has grown.
"The young people are more in tune to it, where a lot of these older people grew up with it and so did their parents," he said. "I know it will change in time. I hope it changes before I die."
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers contributed to this report.