CHICAGO (TDB) -- The leader of the national civil-right group for Native Americans and Alaska Natives says Major League Baseball whiffed by choosing the Cleveland Indians to play this weekend in the sports' inaugural Civil Rights Game in Memphis against the St. Louis Cardinals. Joe A. Garcia says Chief Wahoo is racially offensive and shouldn't be around for the March 31 event that honors the movement that forced the nation to begin eliminating racial barriers and discriminatory practices.
''It is absolutely irresponsible to include a team such as the Cleveland Indians, whose buck-toothed Indian mascot promotes blatant racism, mockery and negative stereotypes of Native Americans. It's time for Chief Wahoo to go the way of Chief Illiniwek.
Garcia heads the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest and largest organization for Native Americans. His group pushed the University of Illinois to eliminate its Illiniwek mascot and has successfully lobbied against such school nicknames Redskins, and is supporting the lawsuit that is attempting to strip the NFL team in Washington, D.C. of that name. It also was extremely active in efforts that led the NCAA to ban the use of Indian mascots and imagery from post-season play. Garcia's attack on Chief Wahoo were backed by Arlen Melendez, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, who said putting the Cleveland Indians in the first civil rights game was a nutty decision.
"In 2001 the U.S. Commission on Civil Rghts publicly called for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native schools because they are disrespectful and offensive to American Indians and others who are offended by such stereotyping. While MLB has made many excellent and positive contributions to America's civil rights achievements, Cleveland's mascot and its association with the first Civil Rights game is particularly inappropriate."
Inquiring minds want to know: If Jackie Robinson were around, what might he say? And Dr. King, who was murdered in Memphis in 1968, certainly would have no truck with a racially offensive caricature. Is it time for Chief Wahoo to retire?