Many Native American baseball fans will not cheer Saturday for either the Cleveland Indians or the Atlanta Braves during this year's World Series because of what they say are racist names and team logos. Members of Native-American activist groups plan to picket Fulton County Stadium Saturday night before the opening game of the World Series. Representatives of the American Indian Movement plan demonstrations in both Cleveland and Atlanta, and say the teams' mascots, logos and names are demeaning and racist. Both the Braves and the Indians have been long-time targets of Native-Americans, many of whom are dismayed to see the two teams sporting demeaning logos, advancing to a national showcase. The logos and caricatures are where the problems begin. The Indians' Chief Wahoo shows the face of a grinning warrior with an elongated nose looking to his left. Below the Braves' scripted name is a tomahawk chop. 'What we have done here, we have taken a race of people, dehumanized them, desensitized them as human beings and have put them in the same category as Lions and Tigers and Bears,' said Tom Perkins, a Cherokee from Alabama who is active in the National Coalition against Racism in Sports and Sports Media. Both teams defend their logos as historical in nature. The Indians, whose nickname is 'the tribe,' says the name honors the first Native American to play professional baseball. The New York Tammany Hall politicians during the late 19th century owned the Braves team.
The ward bosses were referred to as 'chieftains,' and the underling ballplayers were referred to as 'braves.' 'Have you ever seen a human being that looked like that (Chief Wahoo)?' Perkins questioned. 'You know these are the kinds of things that we find as a personal afront. What are we teaching the children? What are we saying here? That racism is okay as long as you are making a buck.' Vernon Bellecourt, AIM's national spokesman, told the Cincinnati Enquirer that: 'Racism doesn't belong in our national pastime.' Bellecourt said AIM has reducted the number of Minnesota high school teams with Indian names from 55 to 15. And Bellecourt told USA Today: 'We're not going away until we can get rid of the Big Four: the Kansas City Chiefs, the Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves.' Both Cleveland and Atlanta have previously experienced criticism and said they are not considering any changes. 'We are keeping Chief Wahoo as our logo,' said Bob DiBiasio, the Indians' vice president. 'We disagree that there is something wrong with it.' DiBiasio said the team's name and logo date from 1915, honoring Louis Francis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian who was the first Native American to play professional baseball. He played outfield for the then Cleveland Spiders from 1897 to 1899. 'We are proud to foster the legacy of Sockalexis,' Dibiasio said. 'I think this whole thing is a perception issue.' Gov. George Voinovich raised a Chief Wahoo flag above the Statehouse Thursday, but when asked about 500 years of oppression symbolized by the logo, Voinovich, a former Cleveland mayor, declined to comment.