PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – A Native American group is calling on Nike Inc. to stop producing and selling products that feature the Cleveland Indians’ mascot Chief Wahoo, which it calls a “grotesque caricature” of modern Indians.
The logo, which appears on some team caps and jerseys, depicts a grinning, red-faced cartoon with a feather headband.
The group, called Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, is planning a protest at Nike’s Oregon headquarters in Beaverton this week and is running a social media campaign using the #Dechief hashtag.
“The fact that Nike is selling items that feed into the hostility toward Native Americans is really troubling,” said the group’s co-founder, Jacqueline Keeler. “Major businesses profit off of caricatures of our people. It would not be acceptable for any other group to be portrayed like this.”
Nike did not immediately return a call for comment regarding the mascot protest. Supporters of the logo say it’s not racist and should be respected because it is part of the team’s history.
The group’s effort is part of a larger national debate over use of Native American names and logos in sports – imagery that many consider offensive.
Hundreds of high school and college teams across the country have done away with their Native American nicknames. But many others have steadfastly held to their mascots and logos, prompting continuing protests.
Lawmakers in Oregon this year eased up on a ban on Native American mascots, opening the door for some schools to keep them.
Native Americans have been protesting Chief Wahoo for years.
In January, the Cleveland Indians made the Chief Wahoo logo less visible and gave more prominence to the block letter “C” for Cleveland, though the team denied it was demoting Wahoo. There were no changes to the uniforms, with Wahoo’s face remaining on the team’s home cap and on the sleeve of all the team’s jerseys – and opponents say they want the caricature completely gone.
Keeler’s group is going around the team owners and targeting companies that produce teams’ gear, starting with Nike.
Nike also runs a fund that promotes Native American sports and recreation programs, paid for by the sale of footwear designed specifically for and with the help of the Native American community.
But Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry says it wants Nike to be more consistent with its commitment to diversity. In addition to Chief Wahoo products, the company sells branded merchandise for the Washington Redskins football team and for Florida State University, both of which use Native American imagery.
Keeler, who was born in Cleveland but moved to Oregon as a preschooler, said her parents participated in marches to protest the Chief Wahoo logo. She co-founded Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry six months ago during football season, to help in the campaign to pressure the NFL’s Washington Redskins to change the nickname because it is offensive to Native Americans.
Native mascots and logos such as Chief Wahoo lead to skewed perception and bad judgment about contemporary Native Americans, who are multiracial and hail from tribes that have unique histories and laws, Keeler said.
“It hinders people’s ability to see Native Americans as human beings, to know our diverse cultures and our issues,” Keeler said. “All people see is the stereotype of Indians with feathers. It makes it more difficult to accept tribes as they are today and prevents people from getting to know us.”
Studies have shown that Indian mascots and logos have a negative impact on the self-esteem of American Indian children, and the American Psychological Association has called for the retirement of all Native-themed imagery.
“We want to finally make red face unacceptable, the way black and yellow faces are unacceptable,” Keeler said.
Jordan Wilhelms, a Cleveland Indians fan who grew up in Cleveland and now lives in Portland, said some people rationalize keeping the logo, because they have become desensitized by wearing it all their life.
“I grew up with it, wearing it, going to games. But as an adult, it’s easier to see that it’s largely stupid and irresponsible to have an officially sanctioned logo that’s beyond offensive,” Wilhelms said. “It’s an inherently racist logo. I think the team should get rid of it.”