Cleveland Indians say they will ‘determine best path forward’ on nickname
By David Waldstein
After decades of resisting calls to change their team name, the Cleveland Indians announced Friday that they were willing to engage in discussions about whether the name is appropriate in the wake of national calls for social justice and reform.
“We are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name,” the team said in a statement released Friday night.
The announcement came hours after the NFL’s Washington Redskins made a similar announcement, vowing to undertake a “thorough review” of their team name, which many consider to be a racial slur against Native Americans.
Both team names are considered offensive by many Native Americans, who oppose their heritage being used as an identity for sports teams and their mascots.
The news that Cleveland is willing to discuss changing the name was greeted with surprise and enthusiasm from Philip Yenyo, the executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio. Yenyo has been protesting the name since 1991, often in the face of withering abuse from fans as they enter the gates of the team’s stadium on game days.
“Wow,” Yenyo said Friday in a telephone interview. “This is a good step.” Cleveland has used the same name since 1915, often accompanied by a caricature of a Native American, known as Chief Wahoo. The team phased out the Chief Wahoo logo last year, removing it from their uniforms and from walls and banners in the stadium.
The logo was still used on items for sale at the team store last year, however, and Yenyo called on the club to cease manufacturing such items and selling them in perpetuity.
“We’ve been out there on the street chanting, ‘Change the name, change the logo,’ for years,” he said. “They didn’t seem to hear the first part of that chant, but maybe now they are listening. There are a lot of issues we are fighting, but the name is the main one.”
The Indians have said that the name was originally intended to honor a former Native American player, Louis Sockalexis, who played for the Cleveland Spiders, a major league club, in the 19th century. Some have suggested that Cleveland adopt Spiders as a replacement.
In their statement Friday, the team cited the “recent social unrest in our community and in our country” — a reference to the nationwide protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis — as spurring its revisiting of the name.
“Our organization fully recognizes our team name is among the most visible ways in which we connect with the community,” the statement said. “We have had ongoing discussions organizationally on these issues.”
The team did not name any specific individuals or groups as the “appropriate stakeholders” it planned to engage, but it could include sponsors and financial partners of the team.
The Washington Redskins’ announcement came a day after FedEx, the company that holds the naming rights to their stadium, asked team owner Daniel Snyder to change the name.
Many Cleveland fans are emotionally attached to the name, and some will most likely be consulted in the process. A name change is not definite.
Yenyo said he had been calling team offices for weeks hoping for a meeting, and would like to be included in any discussions.
“We want to be there,” he said. “We have to strike while the iron is hot.”