Chief Wahoo and his ilk have overstayed welcome

October 24, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

CLEVELAND -- Hundreds of thousands of black men march on Washington, and an entire nation takes notice.

The Atlanta Braves rally to the tomahawk chop, the Cleveland Indians wear Chief Wahoo on their caps, and hardly anyone cares.

Sorry to interrupt the World Series, but if we're going to end racism, let's end racism.

End it so no group suffers.

End it once and for all.

Oh, no one wants to hear this, especially the white majority, especially during baseball's showcase event.

But how can a nation inspired by an event as moving as the Million Man March continue to allow such blatant racism against Native Americans?

The reason is simple.

Native Americans form less than 1 percent of the U.S. population, and in a society where everyone is a victim, they're shouting into the wind.

They gathered outside Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium before the first two games of the World Series, trying to educate the masses.

As usual, they were largely ignored.

The protesters understood -- people attend sporting events to escape the world's ills, not confront them. But don't anyone dare say the Native Americans should just drop it.

Would blacks?

Would Jews?

Would any self-respecting minority?

One of the protesters' signs said, "Human beings as mascots is not politically incorrect, it is morally wrong."

And one of their posters depicted pennants of the fictional New York Fighting Jews, Chicago Blacks, San Antonio Latinos, St. Paul Caucasians and San Francisco Orientals -- and for a reality check, the good old Washington Redskins.

No, the Braves and the Indians aren't the only guilty parties, not with the Redskins, Chicago Blackhawks and Kansas City Chiefs prowling the professional sports landscape.

Why, Braves fans can't even claim they invented the tomahawk chop -- it apparently got its start at Florida State, which is supposedly one of the nation's higher institutions of learning.

It's not the nicknames of the teams that bother the Native Americans so much. It's the logos, the mascots, the perpetuation of myths.

Take Chief Wahoo, the smiling, red-faced caricature beloved by Indians fans. He's Little Red Sambo, when you get right down to it.

Larry Doby, the first black to play in the American League and now an assistant to AL president Gene Budig, cringes at his former team's insensitivity.

"I really don't want to call the Indians anything else, but I agree 100 percent that they should do away with Chief Wahoo," he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer last week. "It reminds me of the blackface minstrel shows."

Then there's the tomahawk chop.

Jane Fonda once did it -- Jane Fonda, the anti-war protester turned capitalist queen. Heck, it probably will surface as a biceps exercise in her next workout video.

What's so bad about the chop? Don't the Braves wear tomahawks on their jerseys? And didn't those Native Americans used to scalp any poor, white soul who crossed their paths?

No, they actually had a nice, little civilization going before we stole their land, slaughtered their children and confined them to reservations.

But let's not that bring up at the Series.

In October, it's fashionable to compare modern players such as Greg Maddux to old-timers such as Walter Johnson, but heaven forbid anyone mention true history.

Such as when the Creeks, Choctaws, Seminoles, Cherokees and Chickasaws -- known to U.S. settlers as the Five Civilized Tribes -- were driven out of the Southeast and established in an area forever intended to be Indian territory.

Perhaps you've heard of that area.

It's called Oklahoma.

Oh, no one wants to hear this now. No one wants to know. Just take me out to the ballgame, OK? Take me out to the ballgame, and leave me alone.

That's the attitude the protesters confront, and it's understandable, given that the politically correct movement is often humorless and rather oppressive.

Then again, three white males wearing Indian headdresses stood right in front of the protesters before Game 1, chanting and doing the tomahawk chop.

The television cameras picked up on it immediately -- look, Ma, conflict! That's America in the '90s. Grab a beer, act like an idiot, get yourself on TV.

Meanwhile, the speeches continued and the protesters marched, protected by metal barricades and a dozen Atlanta cops who were dressed like paratroopers.

Do the protesters make a difference?

Apparently, the answer is yes.

"It's evident by the way they [the fans] dress," said Cleto Montelongo, 48. "Two or three years ago, 95 percent of these people would be wearing the garbage."

There were 35 protesters at each of the games in Atlanta, and they will join other Native Americans outside Jacobs Field tonight when the series moves to Cleveland.

Go back where you came from, that's something they frequently hear -- as if being a Native American meant nothing. Go back where you belong, that's another good one.

Where would that be, exactly? On the reservations? Or perhaps at the casinos we now permit them to operate in various states, compounding our moral corruption?

The Braves and Indians should change their names, change their mascots, change their logos.

They just might do it, too, for their own cynical reasons.

In this day and age, there's only one thing better than being politically correct. That's being politically correct with a fresh marketing plan.

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