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Wahoo outcry: Protesters outside ballpark for opener call for Indians to change nickname, logo

04/10/2015 04:11 EDT | Updated 06/11/2015 09:59 EDT
CLEVELAND - Chanting "We are people, not your mascots," several dozen protesters gathered outside the Indians' home opener urging the team to change its nickname and abolish the Chief Wahoo logo.

The demonstration has taken place each year on opening day for several decades, gaining more attention because of similar protests in Washington against the Redskins.

On Friday, the protesters, many of them Native Americans who circled around a drum and sang traditional songs, carried signs that said: "Change the logo, change the name" and "Rethink, rename, rebrand" as fans walked into Progressive Field for the game against the Detroit Tigers.

Philip Yenyo, executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, said while the major league team has changed its primary logo to a block "C'' and lessened Wahoo's profile on merchandise and around the ballpark, it hasn't been enough.

Yenyo said the smiling, red-faced Wahoo is particularly offensive. The Cleveland resident said of the biggest challenges is educating others on the group's beliefs.

"When we tell people that the feather is sacred to us, it's a sacred as a Christian cross, some of them start to come around and start understanding," he said. "When you start to explain to people how it affects us as a people and it puts us in a category with animals, they begin to see our side.

"This imagery, most sports teams are named after animals and they put us in that same category. We're human beings. We're still a living culture and we still exist."

The Indians said they understand there are passionate views about the logo but will keep using the logo on its uniforms and caps.

"We are very cognizant and sensitive to both sides of the conversation — our fans' deep, long lasting attachment to the memories associated with Chief Wahoo and those who are opposed to its use," the team said in a statement. "We continue to research our fan base to better understand their perception and stance on the logo, but at present time have no plans of making a change."

While some drivers passing by honked their horns in support of the protest, Yenyo and others in his group were challenged by one Indians fan who doesn't see anything wrong with the mascot that remains popular — and polarizing.

The middle-aged fan, who would only identify himself as Chuck from Erie, Pennsylvania because he was afraid of retribution, said he views Chief Wahoo as a part of his childhood and symbol of civic pride.

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