Cleveland Indians change their name after long-running backlash

The Cleveland Indians will be known as the Cleveland Guardians following the 2021 baseball season. (screengrab)
The Cleveland Indians will be known as the Cleveland Guardians following the 2021 baseball season. (screengrab)

The Cleveland Indians have revealed what the team will be called going forward, a change brought on by years of complaints that their old name was racist.

The new name was revealed at the end of a video featuring a poem narrated by Tom Hanks.

Following the 2021 MLB season, they will be known as the Cleveland Guardians.

The name is a reference to a group of statues standing at the corners of the Hope Memorial Bridge leading into downtown Cleveland, just before travellers arrive at Progressive Field.

The art deco statues, called the Guardians of Traffic, have stood along the bridge since the early 1930s and are meant to symbolise the progress of transportation.

Cleveland's baseball team has been called the Indians for more than a century, and before that bore names including the Cleveland Lake Shores, Cleveland Blues, Cleveland Bluebirds, Cleveland Bronchos, Cleveland Molly Maguires and the Cleveland Napoleans, shortened to “The Naps”. The name “Indians’ is said to have been in honour of Louis Sockalexis, a baseball player who played for a different Cleveland baseball franchise, the Cleveland Spiders, in the late 1800s.

The team faced calls to change its name for years, with activists complaining that the term “Indians” and the Chief Wahoo logo of a smiling, cartoon Native American wearing a feather was racist.

Despite being resistant to renaming, the organisation finally broke in 2020, with team owner Paul Dolan saying the George Floyd protests and ensuing social unrest in the country convinced him it was time for a change.

“We are excited to usher in the next era of the deep history of baseball in Cleveland,” Mr Dolan said in a statement. “Cleveland has and always will be the most important part of our identity. Therefore, we wanted a name that strongly represents the pride, resiliency and loyalty of Clevelanders.”

He said the “Guardians” name reflects the attributes of the city's residents.

“’Guardians’ reflects those attributes that define us while drawing on the iconic Guardians of Traffic just outside the ballpark on the Hope Memorial Bridge. It brings to life the pride Clevelanders take in our city and the way we fight together for all who choose to be part of the Cleveland baseball family,” he said. “While 'Indians' will always be a part of our history, our new name will help unify our fans and city as we are all Cleveland Guardians.”

Crystal Echo Hawk, the founder of IlluminNative, a Native American rights organisation, praised the move as a step toward justice for the indigenous people of North America.

“It is a major step toward righting the wrongs committed against Native peoples and is one step toward justice,” she said in a statement to ESPN.

Cleveland is not the only team rebranding in order to drop offensive Native American caricatures; the former Washington Redskins – now called the Washington Football Team – are still considering what to permanently call their franchise.

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