Cleveland Indians Changing Name

The inevitable only took 105 years.

David Waldstein and Michael S. Schmidt of the NYT broke the story (“Cleveland’s Baseball Team Will Drop Its Indians Team Name“):

Following years of protests from fans and Native American groups, the Cleveland Indians have decided to change their team name, moving away from a moniker that has long been criticized as racist, three people familiar with the decision said Sunday.

The move follows a decision by the Washington Football Team of the N.F.L. in July to stop using a name long considered a racial slur, and is part of a larger national conversation about race that magnified this year amid protests of systemic racism and police violence.

Cleveland could announce its plans as soon as this week, according to the three people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

It is not immediately clear what Cleveland’s exact steps will be beyond dropping the Indians name. The transition to a new name involves many logistical considerations, including work with uniform manufacturers and companies that produce other team equipment and stadium signage.

[…]

The club has said that the name was originally intended to honor a former player, Louis Sockalexis, who played for the Cleveland Spiders, a major league club, in the 19th century and was a member of the Penobscot Nation. Some have suggested that Cleveland adopt the name Spiders as a replacement.

Cleveland’s name was long accompanied by the Chief Wahoo logo. Phasing the image out included removing the logo from uniforms and from walls and banners in the stadium. A block “C” was adopted in its place.

“Our organization fully recognizes our team name is among the most visible ways in which we connect with the community,” the team’s July statement said.

ESPN‘s Jeff Pasan (“Sources: Cleveland to drop Indians nickname after 105 years“) adds:

Following the decision of the NFL’s Washington franchise to drop its nickname and ultimately rebrand as the Washington Football Team, Cleveland announced it planned to undertake a thorough review of the Indians name, which it adopted in 1915. Previously, the team had been called the Cleveland Naps, after Nap Lajoie, their star player and manager.

The Indians have played upward of 17,000 games with the nickname and won two World Series — the last coming in 1948. Their 72-year championship drought is the longest in baseball.

[…]

“This is the culmination of decades of work,” the Oneida Nation of New York, which led the Change the Mascot Movement, said in a statement to ESPN. “Groups like the National Congress of American Indians passed resolutions for decades on this, social science has made clear these names are harmful and Cleveland got out in front of it and they’re leading, and rather than having this hanging over their heads, they’re charting a new path.”

President Donald Trump tweeted in response to the pending name change, calling it “Cancel culture at work!”

The Atlanta Braves of MLB, Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL and Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL are the other prominent professional franchises that use Native American imagery in their names and logos.

Whatever the Cleveland franchise chooses as its new name — among those proposed in recent years: the Naps, the Cleveland Spiders (after a defunct, 19th-century baseball team) or the Cleveland Rocks — it is likely to require new uniforms and signage around the stadium, which could delay its implementation, one source said.

The Spiders seem to be the most popular choice, as it’s both unique and tied to Cleveland’s baseball history. Alas, they’re also known as the team with the worse single-season record in Major League history.

I thought I was being clever when the name “Cleveland Rocks” occurred to me last night but, alas, apparently it’s more obvious than I thought. It too, would be unique and tied to Cleveland history.

The Lollygaggers would fit the bill, too, but I suspect they won’t go that route.*

As to the remaining major professional sports teams with Native American iconography—the Braves, Blackhawks, and Chiefs—I think they’re in a much safer category than the Indians, much less the Redskins. But grievance groups seldom go away once they’ve achieved their original goals so one presumes they’ll be the next targets.

_____________________

*A commenter refreshes my memory: the sequence in question was from another late 1980s baseball movie, Bull Durham, rather than Major League.

FILED UNDER: Race and Politics, Sports
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The Lollygaggers would fit the bill,

    There must be some bit of Cleveland history here that I am ignorant of. Somebody wanna fill me in?

  2. CSK says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    A lollygagger is a slacker or a lazy person. A ne’er-do-well.

    “Naps” might not be quite the thing, either.

  3. BugManDan says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I think it is a movie mis-reference. The original is from the manager in Bull Durham calling his players that. Was it also used in Major League?

    1
  4. MarkedMan says:

    Times change and institutions need to change with them. And a name and mascot that seems to punch down carries a cultural load that does no benefit to a sports business. At some point the distraction and negativity associated with the name is more costly than the few fans that will abandon them over this.

    I’m of Irish descent and I sometimes think about the relative lack of controversy with Norte Dame and their leprechaun “Fighting Irish” mascot. Bottom line, I think the difference lies in the assimilation of the Irish into US society aided, no doubt, by the fact that contrary to 19th century racist illustrations, there is no obvious physical manifestation of Irish-ness. In contrast, American Indians are not nearly as accepted and still face tremendous racism and bigotry,

    1
  5. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:
    And the Boston Celtics leprechaun, which was designed by Zang Auerbach, Red’s brother.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @BugManDan: You’re right! It’s been years since I’ve seen either movie but I somehow remembered that sequence being from Major League.

  7. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Just speaking colloquially, “Cleveland Spiders” doesn’t really “scan” for a major league franchise. It sounds like something a community college would adopt as a mascot. Moribund as they are, they can still probably do better than that.

    1
  8. CSK says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    There’s the Hampshire College frog mascot.

    1
  9. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @CSK:

    The one that immediately popped into my mind was the Banana Slug. On the other hand, I have to admit that the “Cleveland Riverfires” is probably a little too on point. 😀

    4
  10. CSK says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    I suppose they could call themselves the Cleveland Mistakes.

    2
  11. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK:

    They’d riot is Southie and Charlestown if the there were pressure on the Celtics to change the name.

    “Cleveland Mistakes” You beat me to it.

  12. Gustopher says:

    I am disappointed they did not just adopt Ghandi as a logo and mascot.

    When people discovered that King County was named after a horrible racist, the county government listened to the complaints and did the only reasonable thing — renamed the county to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who may have once heard about the Pacific Northwest.

    Somewhere in the county we probably have a few revanchist white supremacists who refuse to acknowledge the name change,

    4
  13. Slugger says:

    I lived in Cleveland long ago. I even went to a baseball game at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium where I was one of about two hundred people in a twenty thousand seat facility watching a sub-mediocre team get beat. In honor of that stadium, those teams, and the 1969 Ford I was driving, let’s name the team The Rust.

    1
  14. Mister Bluster says:

    …the team had been called the Cleveland Naps, after Nap Lajoie, their star player and manager.

    In keeping with the tradition of naming teams after former heros and preserving the fantasy that they will ever again win a World Series, I propose that they draw from the Bull Durham film and use the handle that the Kevin Costner character (Crash Davis) called the Tim Robbins character (Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh) and ordain them the Cleveland Meat.

    Sports writers will love it: Meat roasted again.

  15. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @CSK:

    You, sir, win the internet for today 😀

    1
  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @CSK: A lollygagger is a slacker or a lazy person.

    I know that, was called that many times by the old man, 🙂 I just don’t know what that has to do with Cleveland.

    @BugManDan: @James Joyner: Thanx guys, I never saw either movie, hence right over my head.

  17. CSK says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    Ah, thank you! First time EVAH for me.

    2
  18. Tyrell says:

    I would like to know what the fans and former players felt about this. They should be the ones who decide. Few people know that the Cleveland Browns was named after a man, the great Paul Brown: a great coach and innovator. The Cleveland NFL team has a great tradition and some great players.
    Now hopefully the team will get back to winning. But these name changes don’t seem to have any effect on that. The Washington team is doing better under Coach Rivera, but that won’t last if Mr. Dan Snyder starts interfering again.
    How about the Florida Seminoles? My understanding is that they have a legal deal with the Seminole people of Florida.

    1
  19. Mister Bluster says:

    @Tyrell:..I would like to know what the fans and former players felt about this. They should be the ones who decide.

    How many of Ohio’s Indigenous Peoples or their descendants were consulted when the Cleveland franchise adopted the Indian moniker in 1915?

    1
  20. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:

    The fair question to ask is whether George Washington ever heard of the Pacific northwest.