The Cleveland Indians could win the World Series and then lose its logo.
Chief Wahoo, the Indians’ controversial mascot who is featured in the team's logo, could be retired after this season. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said he was willing to speak to Indians owner Paul Dolan about the possibility of a logo change.
“I know that that particular logo is offensive to some people, and all of us at Major League Baseball understand why,” Manfred said at the Hank Aaron Awards news conference on Wednesday.
Manfred acknowledged that the club makes the decisions about its logo, not the commissioner's office. He said he has talked to Dolan in the past about the issue and they agreed “away from the World Series at an appropriate time” they will further discuss the matter.
These remarks cast a glimmer of hope for the Native American group that has been fighting for this cause for 46 years.
“For 46 years now, we’ve been asking the team to change its name,” said Sundance, the executive director of the Cleveland Autonomous American Indian Movement (AIM). “It’s 46 years overdue, but we’ll gladly accept it.” This group is not affiliated with the American Indian Movement of Ohio.
He added that with the commissioner’s comments, their fight is now “more than just a pipedream.”
In January 1972, Cleveland Autonomous AIM sued the Indians for libel and slander in an unsuccessful effort to change the team name and logo. In 1995, the group filed another lawsuit, this time against Gateway Corp, which manages the Indians’ stadium, and the Indians for barring Cleveland Autonomous AIM’s demonstrations outside the stadium. The lawsuit was settled on the terms that the group can protest four times a year with seven days notice. Cleveland Autonomous AIM has protested at every opening day of the Indians’ season since 1973.
Sundance has been the executive director for 10 years and has led Cleveland Autonomous AIM’s protests throughout this season.
“Responses [to our protests] from the public is a broad spectrum,” he said.
He noted that fans are most “hostile, belligerent and vocal” on opening day. He attributed these attitudes to the affluence it takes to attend the opening day game in the middle of a work day, suggesting that wealthier fans are more attached to the Indians mascot and care less about its political implications.
During the season, Sundance said the tone shifts towards more sympathy for Cleveland AIM’s cause, especially from opposing teams. While they are still supporting the Indians by attending games at Progressive Field, he acknowledged the importance of “cultivating allies” when they can.
Sundance expected the World Series protests to be similar to the opening day hostility, but said he was surprised with the support the group received from the majority of spectators.
"I think this is a step in the right direction," said Philip Yenyo, executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, of the commissioner's announcement. "I would like to see them invite us to the table to talk to Mr. Dolan and the commissioner. We want to educate the public on who we are and our culture."
Yenyo doesn't think changing the name is enough, either.
"It's not just the logo, it's the name too, it gives fans free reign to dress up as buffoons and basically mock us," he said. Fans often tell the groups of protesters to "go back to where they came from."
"They don't have to knowledge of how these mascots effect people."
In the meantime, Yenyo plans to offer a letter to the commissioner to make a case for open dialogue about the Cleveland Indians name and mascot.
NBC reached out to the Cleveland Indians front office for comment, but has not yet heard a response.