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Thursday, October 19, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Series Will Be Offensive To Many -- Team Nicknames, Mascots Object Of Protests

AP

This could be a difficult World Series for the politically correct. The Cleveland Indians and their grinning mascot, Chief Wahoo, face the Atlanta Braves, whose fans cheer them on with an arm-pumping Tomahawk Chop.

That's no choice at all for Native American groups, which have vehemently protested baseball's Indian nicknames, mascots, chanting and whooping.

"It's offensive to see people dressed in chicken feathers, painted in what they call war paint, doing tomahawk chops and war whoops. None of that is Indian, and all of it is very demeaning," said Ray Apodaca of the Administration for Native Americans.

The Tomahawk Chop - who can forget Atlanta owner Ted Turner, Jane Fonda and former President Carter doing it during the 1991 playoffs? - has aroused particular ire. (Fonda later vowed to stop the hand motion. But the cameras caught her doing a "modified chop" - without full arm extension.)

"It constitutes an unwarranted attack on us as a people in the same way that little black Sambo was an affront to African-Americans and the Frito Bandito was an affront to Chicanos," said Suzan Shown Harjo, a member of the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe and director of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, which promotes Indian traditions. "America can survive and flourish without its racist toys."

In Cleveland, Chief Wahoo adorns everything from hats to shirts to placards waved by fans. Cleveland had a huge symbol of Chief Wahoo outside old Cleveland Stadium; he didn't make the move last year to Jacobs Field, named for team owner Richard Jacobs.

"As long as Mr. Jacobs owns the team, Chief Wahoo will be our logo," said Cleveland vice president Bob DiBiasio.

In Atlanta, Chief Noc-A-Homa, a man in a feather headdress, used to do a war dance near a tepee beyond the outfield fence at Fulton County Stadium. The mascot left before the 1986 season in a salary dispute with the team.

Now, the Braves are known almost as much for the Tomahawk Chop as for having the best pitching staff in baseball.

"I was listening to the radio and one of the sports commentators said, `When they do the Tomahawk Chop, which Indians are they cheering for?' " Apodaca said. "I expect to see a lot of things that are going to be offensive in characterizations."

Cleveland got its nickname in 1915 during a newspaper name-the-team contest.

Indians was suggested because of Louis Francis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian who was the first Indian to play pro baseball.

The Braves, who first played in Boston, were once owned by John Ward and James E. Gaffney, "chieftains" in New York's Tammany Hall political machine. The team was called Braves because they worked for these chiefs.

One of the trickier Series dilemmas will be shared by The Oregonian and Minneapolis Star-Tribune, newspapers that have banned the use of Indian nicknames in their sports columns.

Paul Gelormino, deputy sports editor of The Oregonian, said the newspaper would continue to refer to the teams simply as Cleveland and Atlanta. And any reference to Chief Wahoo or the Tomahawk Chop will be avoided.

"If nothing else, they're pretty much cliches in a sense," Gelormino said. "Even if that wasn't our policy, we'd pretty much stay away from it anyway."

Harjo said she will ignore the Series: "And it has nothing to do with the strike or the game, because it's a game I love."

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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