While the country was still plagued by police protests over the death of George Floyd, the Cleveland Indians began investigating a name change that summer. The team had been known as Native American since 1915, but after years of protest and criticism of a name considered by many to be racist, it was time to determine whether the name was still appropriate.
It wasn’t lip service. For several months, under the direction of the team’s controlling owner, Paul Dolan, the organization conducted research and conducted interviews with so-called stakeholders – fans of the team, Native American groups, religious and civic leaders from various backgrounds, researchers and historians and psychologists.
And on Monday the team announced they would be giving up the name “Indians,” which many consider to be an outdated relic of submission. The team will choose a new name in an unspecified period. Until then, it will still be called the Indians. But that’s only temporary.
“We have decided to change the current team name and create a new name for the franchise that is not Native American,” the club said in a statement Monday.
One of the experts the team consulted over the summer was Stephanie Fryberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and a member of the Tulalip tribes in eastern Washington state. Her research shows the harmful effects of using Native American sports mascots on indigenous peoples, especially children.
She spent approximately 90 minutes in a video conference call with Dolan and several other top managers on the team. She presented her research results, gave her opinion and answered her questions. She believes the team should be commended for their open-minded and genuine approach to a sensitive matter.
“It wasn’t like the Washington Football team kicking and crying at all,” said Fryberg. “It was a really thoughtful process and it was obvious that they took care of it. They listened and asked good questions. They said, ‘Look, a lot of our fans really like that name. Is there any way to get it working? ‘But they understood that there is no way to keep the name without causing harm. “
“This is a really good day,” said Suzan Shown Harjo, a Native American activist who first took legal action against the Washington team’s name in 1992. She said Cleveland’s decision to delete its name was far more significant than deleting its logo.
“This is more important because it is an admission that the whole context encourages and accounts for the resulting racism and is directed against indigenous people,” she said.
Harjo praised Cleveland for its respectful, fair, and fruitful dealings with Native Americans, adding that the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, and Chicago Blackhawks should follow suit.
“I think that Cleveland decision will make the difference for the rest,” she said, also referring to school mascots and names of professional sports teams. “We have already eliminated most of the names. We have already won on a social level. “
Cleveland executives also consulted with the National Congress of American Indians, a rights organization that can provide teams and schools with the tools and information they need to change their names. It also helps them send messages to their fans and supporters, many of whom are against a name change.
The organization praised the baseball team for their approach through the process, which it identified as a model for future organizations.
“The real commitment the team has made over the past few months to listen to and learn from the Indian country is to be welcomed,” said Fawn Sharp, NCAI president, in a statement Monday, “and the process that the team applied. ” should serve as a blueprint for sports teams and schools across the country as this movement for racial justice and inclusion continues to grow. “
Not everyone welcomed the decision. When the news was reported on Sunday evening, President Trump tweeted, “Oh no! What’s happening? This is not good news, even for “Indians”. Cancel culture at work! “
Terry Francona, Cleveland’s field manager, was due to speak to reporters Monday afternoon, but the team postponed the meeting because it conflicted with team meetings. But others in baseball were happy, including Torey Lovullo, the Arizona Diamondbacks manager, who played for Cleveland in 1998.
“Obviously the Cleveland Indians organization was strong enough that something had to change, and they should be proud of themselves if they did.”
When it came to a new name, the team made no commitment, saying it would continue to examine options, many of which have already been circulated. Fans can even bet on what the new name might be. Spiders, a name used by another Cleveland team in the 19th century, was named a 5-to-2 favorite by BetOnline, a sports games website. The Cleveland Baseball Team, modeled after the Washington Football Team’s current nickname, was 5-1, and the Naps, the 1903-1914 team name reminiscent of former Cleveland player and manager Napoleon Lajoie, was 10-1.
“The team’s decision to change the current name is phase 1 of a multi-phase process,” said the team’s statement. “Future decisions, including new name identification and brand development, are complex and will take time.”
Unless the team’s name has any connection to Native American images, Harjo said she’d love to put roots in it.
“Sure,” she said with a laugh, “especially if you’re playing the Atlanta Braves or the Kansas City Chiefs.”