Major League Baseball’s Cleveland franchise will no longer be known as the Indians, amid a broader reckoning for sports teams that use racist tropes in their branding.
“It’s time,” owner Paul Dolan told the Associated Press on Monday. “The name is no longer acceptable in our world.”
Dolan said the team will continue to be called Indians until a new name is chosen.
“We’ll be the Indians in 2021 and then after that, it’s a difficult and complex process to identify a new name and do all the things you do around activating that name,” Dolan said. “We are going to work at as quick a pace as we can while doing it right.
“But we’re not going to do something just for the sake of doing it. We’re going to take the time we need to do it right.”
The team has been known as the Indians for 105 years, though it has faced accusations of racism for many decades. The franchise has co-opted many Indigenous elements and stereotypes over the years, including the “Tribe” nickname and its caricatured mascot, Chief Wahoo.
Cleveland dropped Chief Wahoo as its mascot in 2019 amid accusations of racism.
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The name change comes less than a year after Washington’s NFL franchise dropped “Redskins,” a racist slur, as its nickname. Washington made the change after sponsors threatened to pull their support from the team during the summer amid major anti-racism protests in the United States.
The Washington Football Team started the NFL season without a new name, and no replacement has been announced.
With the Redskins’ demise, critics turned their attention to a handful of other Indigenous-linked sports franchises that remained. That list included the MLB’s Atlanta Braves and Cleveland, as well as the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks.
The Braves organization ultimately refused to change its name but pledged to discourage the “tomahawk chop,” a fan cheer that has long been condemned as racist.
The Chiefs and Blackhawks acknowledged similar criticism last summer, then later vowed to keep their names while committing to various Indigenous education efforts.
The Blackhawks faced new questions about their logo last month, when the NHL revealed a line of throwback jerseys for each team. The Blackhawks design reused the Indigenous man’s head that has appeared in most of its branding for decades.
The Blackhawks were the only team whose new logo was not depicted in advertising for the jerseys. Instead, the jersey model is shown with his back turned in all photos on the NHL’s website, and the logo is largely obscured in a Twitter promo released by the team.
The Canadian Football League’s Edmonton franchise also dropped its “Eskimos” name amid the summer reckoning. The team is currently gathering fan ideas as it considers a name for the future.
Most sports franchises derive their names from vicious animals, fierce natural forces, tough jobs or nicknames for local residents (e.g. “Yankees” or “Islanders”). Indigenous people are the only race to inspire team names in North America.
—With files from The Associated Press