The Cleveland baseball franchise was known as the Indians for 105 years, but decades of Indigenous protest of the racist name prevailed. The team will temporarily be called the Cleveland Baseball Team, akin to the Washington Football Team that formerly used the racial slur “redskins.”
The Cleveland Major League Baseball team is now the second franchise to drop the racist mis-use of a Native mascot. After decades of criticism, the Major League Baseball (MLB) team announced yesterday that it will change its “Indians” nickname in place since 1915.
The move by the “Cleveland Baseball Team,” as they’re temporarily called, follows that of the Washington D.C. National Football League (NFL) team which in July officially retired the title and mascot “Redskins” — a term that refers to the bloody corpses of Native ancestors collected for bounty. The NFL team’s decision was spurred by multibillion-dollar corporations, including FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo, threatening to pull their sponsorships if the team did not rescind the racial slur. When the Washington D.C. team dropped “redskins,” the Cleveland team pledged to reevaluate its name.
The Cleveland team’s departure from racist branding has been painstakingly slow. Back in 2018, under heavy criticism from Native rights groups, the two-time World Series MLB winners announced plans to phase out their “Chief Wahoo” logo, which was finally eliminated in 2019, though the “Indians” name remained.
Things picked up steam this year. The pressure to cut derogatory mascots intensified after national uptick in support for the Black Lives Matter movement on the heels of George Floyd’s May 25th death by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Native rights issues, often treated as an afterthought when other minority movements receive national attention, benefitted from the shift in public awareness. The D.C. NFL team finally listened to the Native uproar for change, and the Cleveland baseball team eventually followed suit.
Now Indian Country is watching and waiting for the Chiefs, Braves and NFL Blackhawks to rescind their racist names and mascots.
When Indigenous peoples are depicted as racist stereotypes by name or imagery, it’s harmful to both societal perception, understanding and compassion for Native Americans, not to mention the damage it causes to the way Native youth and people see themselves.
As Native Business Executive Editor Carmen Davis stated this summer in a Letter From the Editor,
If we can be denigrated and reduced to a stereotype and dumbed down to a character, then we’ve lost control of every conversation and how we enter it. When we demand the takedown of derogatory names, when we refuse to be marginalized by a racial slur or image, we reclaim our narrative. When we reclaim how we’re portrayed, we empower a better future for Indian Country and this entire nation.