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Chief Wahoo
by Attorney Joseph Meissner


Below is a letter sent from Joe to TV Commentator Leon Bibb.

Dear Commentator Leon Bibb

First, I hope you receive this letter. I did try to contact you several months ago about an issue related to Viet Nam Veterans. When I called Channel 5, they said you were retired as of last August, that they did not know how to reach you, they had no address for you, and that it was no use for me to send anything to you at Channel 5. But I will try.

Second, I saw you on Channel 5 with a baseball commentary for Opening Day on Friday, April 6, 2018. So I am hoping you will receive this letter related to your comments about Cleveland Baseball Opening Day.

Third, your commentary was very good and much praised our national sport. However, the commentary failed to provide a complete view of Opening Day here in Cleveland.

Fourth, we were present at the Stadium this past Friday from about one clock until late in the afternoon. Many people-of various backgrounds and races-- have been present in protest at Opening Day's since 1971 up until now. I myself have attended many of these in person. We are there as a protest against the Cleveland's Team use of the racist, humiliating, and degrading logo of "Chief Wahoo."

Before discussing the Cleveland team and this demeaning logo, let me give you a little background on my experiences with the Cleveland Baseball Team. I first started paying attention to Cleveland games in 1948 when I sat beside my Uncle George as we listened to the World Series games that year on the big brown radio in his dining room. It was a proud time for our city and us fans. Then, after that tremendously successful season, we suffered through five seasons after 1948 when our beloved team, however, well we played under the legendary manager Al Lopez, kept coming in second to the hated New York Yankees. Then in 1954 we again finally won the pennant, winning more games than any other team in baseball history in a 154-game season Back then, I was an active collector of baseball cards and I still have several thousand in my closet which include Micky Mantle, Al Rosen, Larry Doby, and Bob Feller.

Let me jump ahead to 1971 when I was an attorney representing community groups and low-income families. I met with Indian Leader Russell Means who was the head of the Cleveland American Indian Center. He and other Indians urged me to start a lawsuit against the Cleveland Baseball Team to stop their exploitation of the Chief Wahoo symbol. At first, I did not understand what was wrong with Chief Wahoo, nor why we should represent Native American Indians in a lawsuit against this caricature.

After some six months, Means finally had educated me that such symbols were important. He gave the example that if the Baseball Team was named the Cleveland Negroes and its symbol was "Little Black Sambo" with his idiotic grin, large lips, and exaggerated Afro-American features, people would object. Other examples included a Team named "The Cleveland Jews" with an appropriate and debasing emblem. No one would allow such racist logo's to be used by a sports team.

So we did file a lawsuit. Furthermore, we are even today involved in litigation against the Chief Wahoo trademark. That is why the Team's promise to drop this racist, insulting trademark next year is a welcome step forward for race and ethnic relations in our community.

We would hope that in your commentary on baseball you would have included a mention about the racist and objectionable nature of Chief Wahoo. Unfortunately, you did not.

In that commentary you did refer to the almost religious aspect of the sport of baseball. You should have also referred to the improper use of religious and spiritual items in the commercial exploitation of the Chief Wahoo emblem. The term "Chief" denotes a spiritual aspect of Indian leadership. The "feather" used is the sacred eagle feather of Native Americans. Thirdly, even the word of "Wahoo" makes fun of Native American languages as well as the respectful names of Native Americans.

While we were at the Opening game with our educational signs, there were some people who went by and made fun of us. They gave various improper hand signals. Some advanced in a half-threatening manner toward us, although there were great Cleveland City police present and members of the Cleveland Mayor's Community Relations Board to protect our right of freedom of speech.

On the other hand, a number of fans were very welcoming to us and even spoke with us to endorse our efforts. One young man came over wearing a Wahoo baseball hat. He said he was finally beginning to understand what we were saying, that he was getting rid of all his "Wahoo" items, and urged us to continue our work. Another fan, who in the past has worn "Indian" feather war bonnets (but dropped this last year), came over and greeted us. We urged him to wear one of the "Wahoo" protest caps we were passing out. He said he could not yet do that, but he would take a cap from us and add to his cap display collection at his home.

By the way, we have a protest "Wahoo" cap for you and would like to deliver it to you. Please let us know if and when that would be all right.

Finally, of course, eliminating the Wahoo symbol is a great step forward. But that is not enough. There are several more aspects that need to be addressed and we seek your help in doing this.

First, there is a matter of using the word "Indian" for any sports team, including the Cleveland Baseball Team. Many want this changed and the word "Indian" dropped from the team name. Indians are real people, not some inanimate symbol, like "white sox" or "reds."

Indians are human beings, not animals like "cubs" or "bears." The Indian Nations have suffered greatly throughout the centuries just as have Asian Americans and Afro-Americans. To use the word "Indian" makes light of these historic mistreatments and even crimes.

Second, there is a little matter of money and reparations. What we all started with our protests from 1971--and even earlier-this has led many teams, schools, businesses and agencies to change and eliminate their Native American logos and names. That was a good. But what about all the money they earned over all those decades from misusing Native American intellectual property and culture? Do we just let them walk away with this "stolen" money? My view is that the Cleveland Baseball team, all these other teams, all these colleges, all the businesses, and all the other agencies that in any way used Native American names, owe reparations and compensatory payments-not to mention punitive damages-- for misusing Native American Indian intellectual property.

There is at least $9 Billion dollars or more alone that the Cleveland team owes for all of the sales the team has made over numerous decades of utilizing and misusing Indian symbols such as "Chief Wahoo." All those who misused Native American names, symbols, spiritual items, cultural items, and traditions should be required to pay such sums with interest. This money should be divided among the more than six hundred Native American nations who have been hurt and damaged.

Third, even when such moneys have been repaid, another problem still remains. While Indian names and symbols were misused by many teams, colleges, businesses, and other institutions, still there were many people who did learn about the Native American nations. Many young people learned about the great virtues of courage, bravery, and honesty of the Native Americans from their association with these teams, colleges, businesses, and other institutions. Once all this misused symbolism is swept away because of its largely racist and degrading aspect, how then will American youth and the American people learn about the Native American nations, their culture, history, spirituality, and achievements? There must be other ways through which the people, especially the young people, learn about Native Americans, their history, character, and achievements! How will this be done? Who should be involved in such educational efforts? What are these? How should these be implemented?

We would very much appreciate input from you and others on this. Perhaps you could devote some of your commentaries on Channel 5 toward this educational goal.

Thank you very much for all your work in making Cleveland a better place for all. We look forward to hearing from you including any recommendations and suggestions you may have. Thank you for all your great work on Channel 5 and WEWS.

Yours in justice,
Joseph Patrick Meissner, Attorney at Law

PS: We are including below some comments on this issue from members of the Cleveland Plain Dealer Staff. Are you aware of any similar respectful statements from people at Channel 5? Or at other television stations? Thank you.

Sharon Broussard, editorial writer, Northeast Ohio Media Group: It is a symbolic decision [getting rid of "wahoo."], but symbolism has power, promoting the growing sense that a team named Redskins (or one that has a stereotypical American Indian caricature, such as Chief Wahoo here in Cleveland) needs to understand that the name is an affront to the American Indians they claim to respect. If you don't believe so, try calling a team Whiteskins or Blackskins these days - and good luck. No matter what the courts decide on appeal, the Patent Office is right to send a signal that the Redskins' name belongs on the trash heap of history.

Christopher Evans, editorial writer, Northeast Ohio Media Group: The idea that the Dolans would jettison a grotesque, hook-nosed, grinning caricature that insults American Indians, Jews and anyone with 20/20 vision, on the grounds that it is an offensive stereotype, is laughable. Conscience is for suckers. Cash rules every time.

Thomas Suddes, editorial writer: Three cheers for the Patent and Trademark Office. ''Redskins'' is offensive on countless levels. So, too, is Chief Wahoo, the revolting caricature Cleveland's major league baseball team flaunts. Enough is enough. Dug up the dead horse again to give it a few more whacks? Pathetic.


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