After years of protests from fans and Native American groups, the Cleveland Indians have decided to change their team name and move away from a nickname that has long been criticized as racist. Three people familiar with the decision said on Sunday.
The move follows a decision by the NFL’s Washington Football Team in July to end the use of a name long considered racist and is part of a larger national talk on races that has been taking place this year in the face of protests against systemic racism and police violence increased.
Cleveland could announce its plans as early as this week, according to the three people who spoke on condition of anonymity for not having the authority to speak publicly on the matter.
It is not immediately clear what exact steps Cleveland will take without dropping the Indian name. The transition to a new name involves many logistical considerations, including working with unified manufacturers and companies that make other team equipment and stadium signage.
One of the people said Cleveland had planned to keep the Native American names and uniforms for the 2021 season, while it was already working to change in 2022.
Cleveland spent much of the year leading up to the 2019 season retiring the logos and images of the cartoon mascot Chief Wahoo.
One option the team is considering, according to two of those surveyed, is to go forward without a substitute name – much like the Washington Football Team did – and then come up with a new name in consultation with the public.
The Cleveland baseball franchise has been known as Indians since 1915, but Native American groups and others have opposed the use of indigenous names, mascots, and images on sports teams for decades, insisting that they are degrading and racist. Cleveland’s name and Washington’s ancient name were considered one of the most recognizable examples and have been the target of widespread campaigns for change.
The Cleveland team didn’t respond immediately.
In response to Cleveland’s decision, many fans praised the move, saying it was long overdue, and suggested ideas for new names. Others – especially President Trump – criticized the decision.
“Oh no!” Trump tweeted. “What’s going on? This is not good news, even for” Indians “. Break culture at work!”
Other professional sports teams, including the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, and Chicago Blackhawks, have stated in recent months that they have no plans to change their name. Many universities and high schools long ago ditched Native American names and mascots, but efforts to address the names across all levels of sport in the United States have increased in recent months.
For Cleveland, the process began with the announcement that it would withdraw its longtime mascot, Chief Wahoo, a cartoon that was viewed as particularly offensive. Many applauded the decision, but insisted that the team name also had to go.
Then, in July, just hours after Washington announced it would change its name (under pressure from major sponsors like FedEx, Pepsi and Nike), Cleveland said it would do a “thorough review” of its nickname. The team has consulted with many Native American groups both in Ohio and nationally.
“We are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to find the best way to go about our team name,” the team said in a statement in July.
Native American groups usually perform at the Cleveland kick-off each spring, sometimes in the face of withering verbal abuse by fans as they walk into the stadium. Over the past few years the team has worked with protesters and the police to ensure the protesters’ safety and their right to free and peaceful expression.
The club has said the name was originally intended to honor a former player, Louis Sockalexis, who played for the Cleveland Spiders, a major league club, and was a member of the Penobscot Nation, in the 19th century. Some have suggested that Cleveland adopt the Spiders name as a replacement.
Cleveland’s name has long been accompanied by the Chief Wahoo logo. To expire the image, the logo was removed from the uniforms as well as from the walls and banners in the stadium. A block “C” was adopted in its place.
“Our organization fully recognizes that our team name is one of the most visible ways we connect with the community,” said the team’s July statement.