The Slatest

The Cleveland Indians Will Change Its Team Name

A Cleveland fan wears a red "Indians" tee shirt with a picture of the Chief Wahoo mascot drawn on his bald head.
A Cleveland fan during the 2016 World Series. Justin Merriman/Getty Images

The Cleveland Indians are set to change the baseball club’s century-old team name, the New York Times reports, after years of protest over and criticism of the nickname and use of Native American imagery. The club has not officially announced the move, but it’s expected to make a formal announcement this week. The rebrand is not a total surprise, and even appeared inevitable after the team phased out the use of its unequivocally offensive mascot, Chief Wahoo, a cartoonish grinning depiction of a Native American that first appeared on the team’s uniforms in 1948, ahead of the 2019 season. The club announced in July that it would reevaluate its use of name “Indians,” which was adopted as the team’s name in 1915.

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The expected move comes after Washington’s NFL team dropped its team name over summer. Pro teams have taken far longer than schools and universities to discard Native American imagery and mascots. “Native American groups usually appear at Cleveland’s home opener each spring, sometimes in the face of withering verbal abuse from fans as they enter the stadium,” the Times notes. “In recent years, the team has worked with the protesters and police to help ensure the safety of demonstrators and their right to free and peaceful expression.”

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The renaming of franchises that use in some cases offensive, and in others outdated, names and imagery has emerged as yet another divisive issue in a larger cultural split over how to contextualize unflattering aspects of American history, such as Confederate monuments. President Donald Trump summed up his side’s thinking on the matter Sunday. “Oh no!” Trump tweeted. “What is going on? This is not good news, even for ‘Indians’. Cancel culture at work!”

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It is not yet clear exactly how Cleveland will go about the transition, which will involve a pretty significant rebrand. The Times reports that the team is planning to phase the name out after the 2021 season. That seems unlikely however. Once the team has publicly declared its nickname to be inappropriate enough to change, it would be untenable that the team then gives it a season-long retirement tour. More likely is that Cleveland adopts the Washington Football Team approach and jettisons the problematic moniker immediately, adopts a similarly neutral interim name, while figuring out what the team will call itself in the future.

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