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Cleveland Indians to change team name

@castrovince
December 14, 2020

After several months of discussion sparked by the death of George Floyd and a national reckoning over race and colonialism, the Cleveland Indians have decided to change their name. Team owner Paul Dolan confirmed the decision on Monday, following a process that involved conversations with fans, players, local and national

After several months of discussion sparked by the death of George Floyd and a national reckoning over race and colonialism, the Cleveland Indians have decided to change their name.

Team owner Paul Dolan confirmed the decision on Monday, following a process that involved conversations with fans, players, local and national Native American groups, Cleveland civic leaders, corporate sponsors and leading Native American researchers.

Letter from Paul Dolan to Indians fans

“Our role is to unite the community,” Dolan told MLB.com. “There is a credible number of people in this community who are upset by our name, are hurt by our name, and there is no reason for our franchise to bear a name that is divisive.”

The decision follows a similar move by the NFL’s Washington Football Team. Unlike the Washington Football Team, however, Cleveland’s baseball team will continue to be known as the Indians -- the name it has carried since 1915 -- until a new name is chosen and various branding and trademarking issues are resolved.

The earliest a new name will be used is 2022, but the team has not set a firm date. Dolan did not confirm any of the replacement names or concepts being discussed internally, but he did make it clear that the team will not make its informal nickname -- the Tribe -- its new team name.

“It’s not going to be a half-step away from the Indians,” Dolan said. “We will not have a Native American-themed name.”

Native American groups and others have long protested the use of Indigenous names and symbols by professional and amateur sports teams. Cleveland removed the contentious Chief Wahoo logo from its caps and jerseys prior to the 2019 season, though the team still owns the rights to that logo and has continued to sell merchandise bearing the logo.

Dolan said Monday that, as part of the conversation about the nickname, the team has decided to donate all profits from the sale of Chief Wahoo merchandise to causes that support the Native American community.

In July, shortly after Washington’s decision to change its name was revealed, Dolan released a statement that Cleveland would review “the best path forward with our team name.”

Prior to that statement, Dolan’s public stance at the time of the Chief Wahoo decision was that the team name itself did not need to be addressed. But the events of 2020 compelled Dolan and the organization at large to re-evaluate.

“The biggest change was what’s happened this year, starting with George Floyd’s death and the recognition that our world has changed,” Dolan said. “For me, that raised the question of whether we should continue using a name like Indians in this new world and what lies ahead for us. That wasn’t the decision, it was merely the decision to answer the question. We went to answer the question by talking to a wide array of local and national groups. We spoke to our whole community, in one way or another. I think the answer was pretty clear that, while so many of us who have grown up with the name and thought of it as nothing more than the name of our team and that it did not intend to have a negative impact on anybody, in particular Native Americans, it was having a negative impact on those folks.”

Locally, the American Indian Movement of Ohio, the Lake Erie Professional Chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance and the Lake Erie Native American Council publicly advocated for a name change. Dolan said civic leaders who cater to the underserved were equally as strong in their support of a name change.

A fifth-generation Clevelander, Dolan said he understands that many fans do not agree with the team’s decision.

“I hope that those who do not [agree with the decision] take the time, like we did, to better understand the issues and think about a role a sports team plays in the community and whether we can play that role with a name like Indians.”

Dolan said the team will continue to celebrate its long history as the Indians after a new name is installed. The team will continue to engage with the community during the selection process for a new name, which he acknowledged as “difficult and complex.”

“The process of moving away from Indians is not going to be easy,” Dolan said. “We understand it’s going to be difficult for a lot of people to make that adjustment. But I hope, over time, we embrace the process of reimagining our name. Hopefully it will be a name the community can rally around, and we hope it has more than a 105-year life to it.”

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.