Cleveland Indians Home Opener Brings Familiar Hopes, Issues

Since late morning, thousands of people clad in red and blue have taken to the streets across the downtown, clogging bars and restaurants, while vendors peddled shirts and caps on the corners and in alleyways.

Just outside “Rally Alley” at Progressive Field, fan and rally drummer John Adams pounded his bass drum to the delight of passersby.

This season’s opener has the Tribe squaring off against the Minnesota Twins.

Meanwhile, another more politically – and some would say racially – charged battle was also underway. As with all home openers, a group of protesters gathered outside Progressive Field to demonstrate against the team mascot, Chief Wahoo.

Fern Clements of the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance, says it’s been an annual tradition for more than two decades. She and Native American speaker Phil Yenyo decried Chief Wahoo as a negative caricature of the First Nations.

And this year, two-thirds of the roughly 30 protesters were African-American. Demonstrator Zizwe Tchiguka explained their participation to WCPN.

“Those of us of African descent fought to get rid of racist images like ‘Black Sambo’, Aunt Jemima, Stepin Fetchit, etcetera,” says Tchiguka. “But because of genocide against the indigenous people they have very little power and very few numbers. So they need our help.”

The national debate over Native American themed mascots has escalated since last season, with President Obama recently suggesting he’d change a name change for the Washington Redskins, and team owner Dan Snyder making overtures to native communities while simultaneously pledging to keep the moniker.

The debate may be taking root. Earlier this year, the Cleveland Indians shifted their logo from Chief Wahoo to a standard block “C” for uniforms, hats, and pennants. And while Chief Wahoo’s grinning face adorned pennants outside Progressive Field last season, today he was replaced with portraits of the Indian’s players.

Tribes fan Jennifer Pearce arrived in face paint, braids, and a leather headband sporting Chief Wahoo. She says she’s not bothered by the controversy, but isn’t wed to Wahoo either.

“It’s a caricature, caricatures aren’t supposed to be accurate. But I’ll still love the Indians, whether Chief Wahoo’s there or not.”

As for Cleveland’s chances against Minnesota, Pearce says if the Twins played like they did against Detroit, thing look pretty good for the Indians.

In their latest clash, the Tigers clawed the Twins to bits, 8-1.

Among those also cheering on the Tribe today are the Holubs of Brook Park who hope to see some improvements over last season for the Tribe. They feel the lineup has potential.

“(Nick) Swisher, (Jason) Kipnis, (Justin) Masterson…y’know, pretty much the core of the team that’s already in place. They’ve a solid core to do good things,” says Matt Holub.

“They’ve a strong sense of teamwork they started really last year, they’re working more together as a team, and I think that helps a lot,” adds Caroline Holub.

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