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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Editorial Cartoon on Native American Mascots Comes to Life in Cleveland

Last week, a die-hard fan of the Cleveland Indians named Pedro Rodriguez expressed his love for the baseball club as he has each year for the past decade, by attending the first game of the new season dressed in homage to Chief Wahoo, the club’s Native American mascot, in a feathered headdress with his skin painted bright red.

About an hour before the game, Mr. Rodriguez stopped to speak with Peter Pattakos, a blogger and activist who is making a documentary about the team’s name and mascot, which Native Americans have protested for decades as racist and demeaning. As Mr. Pattakos explained on his blog, “Cleveland Frowns,” he then introduced Mr. Rodriguez to a group of protesters rallying nearby, and snapped a photograph of the encounter between the fan and Robert Roche, the executive director of the American Indian Education Center and a member of the Chiricahua Apache tribe.

In an interview with ESPN Cleveland on Tuesday, Mr. Roche said that during their brief conversation the fan refused to accept that his outfit and face paint was “offensive” to Native Americans. Faced with blunt criticism from the protester, Mr. Rodriguez replied: “Well, I’m just honoring you.”

The fan was similarly unyielding when he called in to the same radio station to defend his costume and makeup. “I’m a tribe fan, first and foremost, and I’ve been doing this for opening day now for 10 years, and I just love the Indians” he said. “Will I wear Chief Wahoo next year? Yes I will,” he added.

Mr. Roche also told ESPN that while the discussion was not particularly productive, Mr. Rodriguez was at least civil, unlike a number of other fans who shouted drunken abuse and a stream of nonsensical obscenities at the protesters, cataloged in great detail by a reporter for The Cleveland Scene.

After Mr. Pattakos shared his photograph of the encounter on Twitter, a blogger who writes as @a_girl_IRL noticed that it looked remarkably like an editorial cartoon drawn 12 years ago by the Mexican-American satirist Lalo Alcaraz, imagining just such an encounter between an offended Native American protester and a sports fan who claimed that his outfit was a way of honoring indigenous people. The blogger quickly put together a side-by-side montage of the cartoon and the photograph, which brought it to the attention of Mr. Alcaraz’s fans and then the artist himself.

Regular readers of The Lede might recall that this is not the first time a comedic invention of Mr. Alcaraz has taken on a life of its own. In 1994, long before an idea became a doctrine embraced by conservative activists, and Mitt Romney, Mr. Alcaraz and another Mexican-American satirist pretended to be Latino Republican activists spearheading a movement for “self-deportation” as a solution to unchecked immigration.

As Mr. Pattakos explained at the start of the 2012 baseball season, Chief Wahoo was first drawn in 1947 by “a 17-year-old draftsman hired by Indians owner Bill Veeck to design a mascot that ‘would convey a spirit of pure joy and unbridled enthusiasm.’” Although the illustrator, Walter Goldbach, said last month that offending anyone “was the last thing that we thought about,” it has been called a “red Sambo” by David Pilgrim, a sociology professor at Ferris State University in Michigan, who founded the school’s Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. Such caricatures, the sociologist told Mr. Pattakos, should be scrapped since they helped “to legitimize patterns of prejudice, discrimination, and segregation.”

While the team has yet to drop the mascot altogether, the symbol has been increasingly hidden from view by the franchise and, as PolicyMic reported last week, some fans even joined a movement to “de-chief” their caps and jerseys before opening day.