Two years ago, a photo of Pedro Rodriguez dressed in a headdress and red face while confronting a Native American protester went viral. On Monday, he returned to the annual protest — this time to apologize.
“If you could wrap the Native American mascot debate in a photo, it would look something like this,” Sports Illustrated wrote at the time. The protester pictured is Robert Roche, the executive director of Cleveland American Indian Movement (AIM).
A confrontation between Cleveland Indians fan Pedro Rodriguez and Native American organizer Robert Roche on the team's opening day made headlines in 2014. (Courtesy of Peter Pattakos)
This week, Rodriguez approached protesters outside the team’s home opener again.
“He said he’d thought a lot about the things Robert had said and he was genuinely sorry for being such a jerk that day,” said Bee Schrull, an organizer with Cleveland AIM.
It felt “really good” to hear an apology, but that’s still not enough, Schrull told The Huffington Post Canada.
“It's great that Pedro realized that wearing red face and a fake headdress to the games is wrong. I'm really proud of his growth in that respect,” she said. “But he still doesn't value native lives enough to stop supporting the team. He still wore Chief Wahoo proudly and told everyone he didn't want Chief Wahoo gone.”
Cleveland Indians fan Pedro Rodriguez shakes hands with co-founder of American Indian Movement Cleveland, Robert Roche on April 4, 2016. (Courtesy of Bee Schrull)
101 years of Chief Wahoo
The Cleveland Indians have defended that their mascot honours Native Americans — and one man in particular, Louis Sockalexis. He played for the Cleveland team in the 1890s and was a member of the Penobscot tribe, according to the Guardian. But he only played about half a season’s worth of games and Cleveland's major newspapers failed to mention him when the team adopted its current name in 1915.
“These teams are a reminder of genocide,” said Schrull. Taking off the headdress and red face isn’t enough for Native Americans who face racism, poverty, violence and unjust imprisonment, she said.
“Our women go missing and are murdered and no one cares… Our men are unjustly imprisoned and no one knows or cares… The water crisis in Flint has been happening on our reservations for a very long time and no one knows,” she said. “In America, most people don't even know these things. Because they've been led to believe we're relics of history.”
Schrull said it's important for the public to know Native Americans are still hurting. “These teams just hurt us further,” she said.
In other news about racism in sports, an ESPN host generated plenty of chatter on social media when he wore a "Caucasians" shirt lampooning the Cleveland Indians logo on Thursday.