After more than 100 years, Cleveland’s major league baseball team is shedding its racist name and logo. Starting next year, the Cleveland Indians will now be known as the Cleveland Guardians.
ESPN has reported that the ballclub announced the name change late last week “with a video on Twitter narrated by actor Tom Hanks, ending months of internal discussions triggered by a national reckoning by institutions and teams to permanently drop logos and names considered racist.”
Native American activists had long claimed that the team’s “red-faced caricature” mascot Chief Wahoo (which they abandoned several years ago), as well as the team name itself, was offensive, discriminatory and highly inappropriate.
Together, we are all… pic.twitter.com/R5FnT4kv1I
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) July 23, 2021
According to ESPN, “Cleveland’s new name was inspired by the large landmark stone edifices — referred to as traffic guardians — that flank both ends of the Hope Memorial Bridge, which connects downtown to Ohio City.”
Following the announcement of the new name, team owner Paul Dolan told the press that he had found himself frequently reflecting upon the huge art deco sculptures as the quest for a new team name was underway.
“Frankly, I hadn’t studied them that closely until we started talking about them and I should emphasize, [the team is] not named after the bridge, but there’s no question that it’s a strong nod to those and what they mean to the community,” he said.
Officials said that following the death of George Floyd and the decision to change the team name to something less controversial and more inclusive, the team’s management spent close to a year poring over thousands of potential names, conducted more than 140 hours of interviews with fans and community leaders, and surveyed more than 40,000 fans looking for just the right new name.
“We do feel like we’re doing the right thing, and that’s what’s driving this,” Dolan said. “I know some people disagree, but if anything, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable that we’re headed in the right direction. The selection of the name solidifies that feeling because of the values that the name represents.”
Dolan was also quick to acknowledge that he realizes a portion of the team’s fan base may never accept the new name or even support the team in the future following the change.
“I’m 63 years old, and they’ve been the Indians since I was aware of them, probably since I was 4 or 5 years old so it will take a long time,” he said. “But we’re not asking anybody to give up their memories or the history of the franchise that will always be there. And for people my age and older, most of our life is going to be living as an Indian and not as a Guardian.”
Indigenous rights groups cheered news of the decision.
“It is a major step toward righting the wrongs committed against Native peoples and is one step toward justice,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director and founder of IllumiNative, a human rights advocacy group dedicated to fighting against misrepresentations of Native Americans.
According to ESPN, the name change “sparked a lively debate among the city’s passionate sports fans.”
Guardians will be the fifth name in total for the team in its history, following Blues (1901), Bronchos (1902), Naps (1903-14) and Indians (1915-2021).
“We think Guardians is unique and authentic to Cleveland,” said Brian Barren, Cleveland’s president of business operations. “It’s less about the Guardians of Traffic and more about what the Guardians represent and that idea of protection. For us and our research, Cleveland folks are very protective of one another.”
“[Guardians are] protective of our city, they’re protective of the land and everything about it,” he added. “That’s one key component, the resiliency of people here in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio and the loyalty.”