In a Friday morning tweet, the Cleveland Indians announced they had selected the Guardians as their new team name. The team had previously announced plans to rename after many called the old name racist. However, the tweet introduced the world to the new Guardians name. The team had previously removed its former mascot, Chief Wahoo, a caricature of a Native American chief, in 2018. Changing the name was the logical next step.
Motivations for change
The Washington Football Team removed the Redskins moniker before last season. Many turned to the Indians as the next in line for a name change. The push to change names began nearly a decade ago but picked up steam more recently. Black Lives Matter and other racial justice movements accelerated the process. Team owner Paul Dolan had previously announced that the process would include meeting with local activist leaders and Native Americans to discuss new team names. The goal was to determine if the name had to be changed and what possible alternatives were.
“As I explained to our players, I am invested in engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to help determine the best path forward with regard to our team name. In the coming weeks, we will engage Native American leaders to better understand their perspectives, meet with local civic leaders, and continue to listen to the perceptions of our players, fans, partners and employees. We feel a real sense of urgency to discuss these perspectives with key stakeholders while also taking the time needed to ensure those conversations are inclusive and meaningful.”Paul Dolan on July 23rd, 2020, exactly one year prior to the official name change
In the two-minute video narrated by Tom Hanks, the team revealed some reasons for the new Guardians name. Hanks begins by talking about how Cleveland has a storied past but is building towards the future. Hanks proceeds to speak about the natural beauty of Cleveland. This respect for the land seems to be paying homage to Native American culture, emphasizing and respecting nature’s beauty. Following the introductory piece, the video focuses on Cleveland baseball. The narration continues over highlights from the team’s history, including its recent World Series run.
Just over a minute in, Hanks says the most important line in the video. “We remember those [historic Cleveland baseball] moments as we move forward with change.” The team wants to preserve its past but just with a new name. The second half of the video gives the reasoning for selecting the Guardians for the new team name. Before it does so, the team delivers another important message. Hanks says, “it’s always been Cleveland that’s been the most important part of our name.” This is the message the team wants to emphasize. Guardians or Indians, this is still the same team. It’s the same players, the same history, and the same city. They are adapting the team name for modern times, but nothing is really that different.
Why the Guardians was selected as the new name
As the video introduces the Guardians name, it focuses on unity. Hanks says that all of Cleveland can come together with their shared traits. He says that “We are loyal and proud and resilient, we protect what we earned, and we defend it.” These are the reasons why Cleveland settled on the Guardians. Cleveland fans want their teams to be tough, and as a name, the Guardians fits the bill. Dolan released a statement re-affirming the video’s message that Cleveland is the most important part of the name.
After the Guardians, more teams in line for a new name?
While the Indians and Redskins were the first to go, plenty of other teams have names that could be deemed offensive. None necessarily reach the same point on the offensive scale, but that doesn’t mean they won’t change. Focusing only on major professional sports, three teams could potentially be staring at a name change soon.
First, also in the MLB, the Atlanta Braves team name derives from a nickname for Native Americans. Their old logo was a Native American. Until 1985, their mascot, Chief Noc-A-Homa (mocking Native American names to say knock a homer), watched games from a teepee in the bleachers. Even now, fans often participate in the “Tomahawk chop,” an offensive ritual stolen from Florida State. The current logo still features an ax, speaking to this nature. Having seen how easily teams can change names, the Braves should consider modernizing.
The Chicago Blackhawks present a more complicated case. Their name comes from a World War I Army division. They do not need to change the name. However, their mascot is possibly the most problematic one left in sports.
And the Kansas City Chiefs round out the list. They are likely the least problematic of the three. Chiefs is an honorific Native American name rather than a derogatory one. However, their fans also participate in the “Tomahawk Chop.” Before a 2020 ban, fans would often dress up in stereotypical Native American regalia or wearing “war paint.” However, the Chiefs are working to improve their image.
It will certainly be interesting to see how the name change is received. The early feedback seems positive. Anything is better than the Washington Football Team. But if the fans embrace the new name, the Braves or Chiefs could be quick to follow.