CLEVELAND - More than 50 Native Americans and supporters marched peacefully outside Jacobs Field last night to protest the Cleveland Indians' logo as an ethnic slur.
Most fans entering the sold-out game at Jacobs Field against the Minnesota Twins ignored the protest, held at two entrances. A few taunted the protesters by yelling support for the grinning, big-nosed Chief Wahoo, an Indian caricature the team has used for decades.
The protesters carried banners that read "People, Not Mascots" and "No More Red Sambo."
"We won, we set a precedent," said Robert Roche, an Apache and co-plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenged a ban against demonstrations on Gateway sports complex grounds.
"We have a right to be here," Roche said as fans streamed into the stadium. "We're peaceful. We'll continue to be peaceful."
Ed Kovacic, Gateway security chief, said he moved uniformed officers closer to the demonstration in response to antagonistic fans.
Dave Labus, 30, of Columbus, wore a Wahoo logo hat to the game and said he didn't feel the image was insensitive to American Indians. "I never thought of it that way. It's all how you think of it."
Under the terms of a temporary compromise reached in federal court earlier in the day, the protesters were kept at the edge of the stadium property.
The agreement came as U.S. District Judge John Manos conducted a hearing on a lawsuit that Cleveland-area residents Roche and Juanita Helphrey filed Thursday against the Gateway Economic Development Corp.
Both said they are of American Indian descent and are offended by Chief Wahoo. The team's past home openers at city-owned Cleveland Stadium often have included such protests, but Gateway recently issued a prohibition.
Kovacic said he had rejected a request to allow a protest. He said Gateway should be considered "a recreational facility and not a proper forum for any or all people with grievances to demonstrate."