June 25, 2014

Chief Wahoo faces trademark lawsuit

Native American Group Mounts $9B Lawsuit Against Cleveland Indians

By Dan KedmeyA Native American advocacy group called “People Not Mascots” is seeking $9 billion in damages against Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians.

‘We’re basing it on a hundred years of disparity, racism, exploitation and profiteering,” Robert Roche, the group’s leader, told CBS News’ Cleveland affiliate. Roche decided to press the issue after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office stripped the Washington Redskins of its trademark last Wednesday, deeming the team name a “racial slur.”

The lawsuit will also target the team’s logo and mascot, Chief Wahoo. “It’s been offensive since day one,” said Roche. “We are not mascots. My children are not mascots. We are people.”

The campaign to remove Native American caricatures from team names and logos has built up steam in recent weeks, with 50 Senators petitioning National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell to change the name of the Redskins. The Redskins vowed to appeal the USPTO ruling.
Washington Redskins' trademark revocation means Chief Wahoo is on borrowed time--Bill Livingston

By Bill LivingstonIn 1992, the Indians' last season at their Tucson training camp, I visited an Indian reservation near Hi Corbett Field, carrying a team schedule with Wahoo on it to see what they thought of him.

It was not much.

The March 15, 1992 column, written from the Yaqui reservation, is not available online, although it can be found in The Plain Dealer historical archives online.

"Yes, I feel resentment. Very much so," said Anselmo Valencia, the then 70-year-old chief of the tribe. "Do I look like that? Do my people? Some of the older people here, when they first heard of the Cleveland Indians, were very proud. They thought they were all real Indians. When I told them they are almost all white people and black people, they were very offended."

Valencia spoke of the rock singer Ritchie Valens, who was almost certainly part-Yaqui, and of the light heavyweight boxer, Yaqui Lopez. "Our young people do not worship our own heroes," he said. "They see Indians portrayed in a comical way by baseball teams and other sports."

The Cleveland Indians never meant Wahoo to be offensive, of course. But, on Indian land, speaking to a real chief, asking real Indians what they thought of him, I felt deeply embarrassed.

No such stereotype could possibly exist of African-Americans or Hispanic men. They have the votes at the ballot box. That makes Wahoo a case not only of racism, but of bullying.
Comment:  Among Indian team names and mascots, the biggest offenders include Chief Illiniwek, the Fighting Sioux, the Washington Redskins, and Chief Wahoo. That's two down, two to go.

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