When I returned to Cleveland in 1995, after a 29-year absence, Jacobs Field was brand new and the team was set to start the new season. Russell Means, the Native American activist who had gained international notoriety as one of the leaders of the 71-day armed occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota in 1973, came to town to lead the protest against Native-American names and images being misused by sports franchises. He was under no illusions about how long the fight would take, but he and other Native Americans were in it for the long haul.
I’ve always been of the opinion that the same people who opposed the rights of Native Americans to not be used as caricatures are also opposed to Black rights and wishes. I went to the protest carrying the poster above and was welcomed like a brother-in-arms.
Chief Wahoo thankfully was retired a few years ago and now the Cleveland Baseball Club has come up with a new name for the team: The Guardians. But the change, as to be expected, is not without controversy. Hidebound old-timers hate the new name. But the fact is, whatever name the team came up with, they were going to hate. They want to retain a name that’s a slap in the face of an entire demographic of people, fairness be damned.
But team manager Terry Francona said it best: The team should not carry a name that’s disrespectful of an entire nation of people. The reason it took so long to make the change was, in large part, financial. While there are 359,000 Blacks in Cuyahoga County (many of whom buy tickets) there are only 5,000 or so Native Americans — but they stayed the course. There certainly is a lesson to be learned from their grit and determination.