After years of protests from fans and Native American groups, the Cleveland Indians have decided to change their team name, and away from a moniker that has long been criticized as racist, said three people who were aware of the decision on Sunday.
The move follows a decision by the Washington Football Team in the NFL in July to stop using a name that was long considered a racial slur, and is part of a larger national conversation about race that magnified this year amid protests against systemic racism and police violence.
According to the three people, Cleveland was able to announce their plans as soon as this week, which spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.
It is not immediately clear what Cleveland’s exact steps will be beyond releasing the Indians’ names. 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.
One of the people said that Cleveland planned to keep the Indians’ names and uniforms for the 2021 season while they worked to change already in 2022.
Cleveland spent much of the year before the 2019 season phasing out logos and images of the cartoon mascot Chief Wahoo.
One of the options the team is considering, two of the people said they are moving forward without a replacement name – similar to how the football team in Washington went about it – and then came up with a new name in consultation with the audience.
The Cleveland baseball series has been known as the Indians since 1915, but Native American groups and others have for decades opposed the use of indigenous peoples’ names, mascots and images for sports teams, insist they are degrading and racist. Cleveland’s name and Washington’s old name were considered one of the most high-profile examples and were the target of extensive change campaigns.
The Cleveland team did not immediately comment.
In response to Cleveland’s decision, many fans hailed the move, saying it was long overdue and proposing ideas for new names. Others – especially President Trump – criticized the decision.
“Oh no!” Trump tweets. “What’s up? This is not good news, not even for ‘Indians’. Interrupt the culture at work!”
Other professional sports teams, including the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Blackhawks, have said in recent months that they have no plans to change their name. Many universities and colleges left Native Americans names and mascots a long time ago, but efforts to address the names of all sports levels in the United States have increased in recent months.
For Cleveland, the process began when it announced it would retire its longtime mascot, Chief Wahoo, a cartoon character who was seen as particularly offensive. Many applauded the decision, but insisted that the team name also had to go.
In July, just hours after Washington announced it would change its name (under pressure from major sponsors such as FedEx, Pepsi and Nike), Cleveland said it would conduct a “thorough review” of the nickname. The team has consulted many Native American groups, both in Ohio and nationally.
“We are committed to engaging our community and relevant stakeholders to determine the best way forward with regard to our team name,” the team said in a statement in July.
Native American groups usually show up at Cleveland’s home opener each spring, sometimes in the face of faded verbal abuse from fans as they enter the stadium. In recent years, the team has worked with the protesters and the police to ensure the protesters’ safety and their right to free and peaceful expression.
The club has said the name was originally meant 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 included removing the logo from uniforms and from walls and banners in the stadium. A block “C” was adopted instead.
“Our organization fully recognizes our team name is among the most visible ways we get in touch with society,” the team said in a July statement.