Skip to content

Native American group plans to file a $9 billion lawsuit against the Cleveland Indians over Chief Wahoo

Jun 25, 2014, 4:11 PM EDT

indians logo

I think my record on the Chief Wahoo thing is pretty clear by now. I’m quite obviously not a fan. But there’s a big, big difference between thinking something is offensive and should be banished to history and thinking that thing actually entitles people to billions of dollars in legal damages. Some folks to whom I’d otherwise be sympathetic are going to learn that pretty quickly.

From Paul Kiska at ABC5 in Cleveland, brought to our attention by Big League Stew:

Robert Roche is the director of the American Indian Education Center and one of the plaintiffs planing to file a federal lawsuit in late July against the Cleveland Indians. The group says the team’s name and the Chief Wahoo logo are racist. The group wants a lot of money to help Native Americans with education, job training and housing.

“We’re going to be asking for $9 billion and we’re basing it on a hundred years of disparity, racism, exploitation and profiteering,” Roche said.

Normally it’s folks who support things like Chief Wahoo or the Redskins name who fail to grasp what does and what does not violate one’s rights. One need only search “Redskins” and “freedom of speech” to get a taste of that sort of baloney. Here, however, Roche and the American Indian Education Center are the ones who are missing the point of how things work in this country.

The Cleveland Indians are a private corporation. They, like any other private citizen, can be as offensive as they want to be. They can do more than put a Wahoo patch on their caps and jerseys, in fact! They could have a “We really, really hate Native Americans Day” at Progressive Field and hand out racist literature stamped with “The Cleveland Indians heartily endorse this message because, oh my god, we really hate racial minorities.” Now, I know some people who work for the Indians and know they wouldn’t choose to do that, but legally speaking, they totally could. That sort of freedom — and the corresponding freedom of baseball fans all over to boycott/ostracize them into the Stone Age if they did — is one of the beauties of America.

But do you know who could sue the Indians if they did that? No one. Well, some employees could based on a hostile work environment theory. And Major League Baseball could do whatever it wanted to up to and including any litigation it might choose that is consistent with the team’s and the league’s franchise agreement. But ordinary citizens couldn’t. They don’t have any more right to sue the Indians over Chief Wahoo than they’d have to sue the organizers of a Klan march on the statehouse, a jackwagon yelling things at people on a street corner or your racist uncle who had too many beers last Memorial Day and decided to tell you what he really thinks of that ethnic minority family who moved in down the street. Maybe those folks have some unpopular views, but our legal system protects their rights for good reason.

Of course Robert Roche and the American Indian Education Center likely know this. And I presume they are merely seeking out some headlines in order to draw attention to their cause. But ultimately this sort of stunt is counterproductive as a means of swaying public opinion. A lot of people hate Chief Wahoo and a lot of people love him. But a lot MORE people hate lawyers and litigiousness and are immediately suspect of someone who files — or, in this case, threatens to file — lawsuits against their beloved institutions. Especially ones with little if any legal merit.

Put differently: you’re not helping, dudes. Keep up the protests and the public pressure. Even think about narrow, focused legal action with actual merit such as the trademark challenge the Redskins just lost. But cut it out with the billion dollar damage claims.

Latest Posts
  1. Craig Kimbrel claimed on waivers by unknown team

    Aug 28, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT

    Craig Kimbrel Craig Kimbrel

    An unknown team claimed Padres closer Craig Kimbrel on revocable waivers.

  2. Red Sox shut down Clay Buchholz for the season

    Aug 28, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT

    Clay Buchholz AP

    Will the Red Sox exercise his $13 million option for 2016?

  3. Thinking a ballplayer is hot does not make someone less of a fan

    Aug 28, 2015, 2:20 PM EDT

    Giancarlo Stanton nude

    An important manifesto from a woman who is both a serious baseball fan and who does not deny the bleeding obvious.

  4. Denard Span to undergo season-ending hip surgery

    Aug 28, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    Denard Span Getty Getty Images

    Rough timing for the impending free agent.

  5. Mariners demote starting catcher Mike Zunino to Triple-A

    Aug 28, 2015, 1:44 PM EDT

    Baltimore Orioles v Seattle Mariners Getty Images

    Hours after firing general manager Jack Zduriencik the Mariners have demoted one of his worst draft picks.

  6. Mariners fire general manager Jack Zduriencik

    Aug 28, 2015, 11:42 AM EDT

    jack zduriencik getty Getty Images

    Overall the Mariners went 505-595 (.459) with Zduriencik as GM.

  7. Hacking scandal fallout: Cardinals hire former reliever Randy Flores as new scouting director

    Aug 28, 2015, 11:27 AM EDT

    Randy Flores Cardinals AP

    Two months ago, in the wake of the Astros database hacking scandal, the Cardinals fired scouting director Chris Correa.

  8. Pedro Martinez wonders if bad chemistry is the reason the Tigers and Mariners are out of contention

    Aug 28, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    Boston Red Sox Getty Images

    Pedro Martinez is one of the smartest baseball players in living memory, but he’s sniffing up the wrong tree here.

  9. Max Scherzer gave his catchers Hublot watches for catching his no-hitter and one-hitter

    Aug 28, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    150614_MaxScherzer Getty Images

    I hate to use the word “classy” because its so overused in sports. But this is classy.

  10. And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

    Aug 28, 2015, 8:02 AM EDT

    Zack Greinke Getty Images

    Zack Greinke is doing things guys have not done since the Dead Ball era. And I do not mean making scary faces like that.

  11. Michael Taylor leaves game after crashing into outfield fence

    Aug 27, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 24: Michael Taylor #3 of the Washington Nationals looks on before a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on June 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Nationals won 2-1 in the 11th inning. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) Getty Images

    After losing Yunel Escobar on a hit-by-pitch, Michael Taylor left tonight’s game against the Padres when he crashed into the outfield fence.

  12. Yunel Escobar exits game after being hit in the hand by a pitch

    Aug 27, 2015, 9:27 PM EDT

    WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 03:  Yunel Escobar #5 of the Washington Nationals reacts after striking out to end the fifth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Nationals Park on August 3, 2015 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) Getty Images

    So, that thing about the Nationals’ projected Opening Day lineup finally being in place?

  13. Miguel Sano robbed of home run by catwalk at Tropicana Field

    Aug 27, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT

    Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, left, and teammate Logan Forsythe look up to see the ring of the dome at Tropicana Field that Minnesota Twins' Miguel Sano, right, hit with his RBI ground-rule double during the third inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson) AP

    Twins rookie slugger Miguel Sano hit another mammoth blast tonight against the Rays. The only problem is that the catwalk at Tropicana Field got in the way.

  14. Adam Jones leaves game after colliding with outfield fence; hopes to be in lineup Friday

    Aug 27, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT

    Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones (10) chases a fly ball hit by Kansas City Royals' Ben Zobrist during the first inning a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. Jones was injured on the play but stayed in the game and Zobrist doubled. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner) AP

    Jones was forced to exit Thursday’s game after colliding with the center field fence.

  15. Cubs acquire Fernando Rodney from the Mariners

    Aug 27, 2015, 7:13 PM EDT

    Fernando Rodney Getty Images

    After being designated for assignment by the Mariners over the weekend, Rodney will be reunited with Joe Maddon in Chicago.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. D. Wright (3072)
  2. J. Fernandez (2526)
  3. Y. Cespedes (2436)
  4. D. Span (2436)
  5. G. Stanton (2427)
  1. F. Rodney (2152)
  2. Y. Puig (2144)
  3. M. Teixeira (2094)
  4. G. Springer (2002)
  5. H. Olivera (1957)