(AP) — Cleveland native Josh Hunt is not a fan of baseball. But he’s showed up at Progressive Field where the Indians play for the past couple of years to protest the team name and its mascot, Chief Wahoo — confronted with fans in headdresses and face paint, some playing small drums.
“Being Native American myself, it’s a reminder that our city and our society doesn’t see me as a human being,” he said. “It would prefer to portray me as a racist stereotype, a bloodthirsty savage.”
The protests have been happening since at least the 1970s, and this week marked what American Indians say is a small but meaningful change in professional sports. The players won’t don Chief Wahoo on their uniforms starting in the 2019 season, when Cleveland will host the All-Star Game, though the red-faced cartoon with a big-toothed grin and feather headband won’t disappear from merchandise.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and team owner Paul Dolan said the change was about diversity and inclusion. Manfred met with the National Congress of American Indians last April, after the club had reduced Wahoo’s visibility and introduced a block “C” as the club’s primary insignia. The NCAI’s executive director, Jacqueline Pata, said she knew the All-Star game was putting pressure on the team, and she further impressed that change would equate respect.
“Once you make this big step and the public understands, it makes a statement in itself,” said Pata, of the Tlingit Tribe of Alaska. “I continue to say an informed public will make decisions about what they buy and how they want to be associated with the sports teams.”
The group has kept a list of schools and sports teams that use indigenous imagery, mascots and names, once a common tradition throughout the U.S. Change has come: Savages to Blue Hawks at Dickson State University. Indians to Big Green at Dartmouth College. Warriors to Golden Eagles at Marquette University. School districts in Minnesota and Wisconsin have banned Native American mascots for decades.
Pata said about 1,000 names still are targeted, including the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, the MLB’s Atlanta Braves and the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks.
The imagery isn’t limited to the United States.
Brazil’s Chapecoense, a soccer team that lost 19 of its players in a November 2016 air crash, has a mascot named for a 19th century leader of the Kaingang Tribe. Locals in Chapeco, a majority white…