Tangled web: Should the Indians rename themselves?


It’s time. There’s never been a more opportune moment for a franchise in any sport to scuttle a nickname with — real or perceived, overt or subtle — racist aspects.

On this blog six years ago, I recommended that Cleveland drop the Chief Wahoo mascot, which the team eventually did from their uniforms but not (apparently to placate the gods of commerce) from branded merchandise.

Could looking to the franchise’s past clear the way for a new nickname?

I didn’t then advocate changing the “Indians” name, but I do now.

For many years I thought in a traditional way, that the Indians’ name and the “Tribe” identity were part of my heritage. The name has long been considered offensive by native Americans and many others, and it’s time that we Cleveland fans truly recognize it, own up to it and act.

I’m a Cleveland native, part of a family lineage that stretches over seven generations of residence in northeast Ohio. I have been a fan of Cleveland’s baseball franchise all along. Changing the name won’t sever that long bond, and it won’t dilute the memories I have of Rocky Colavito, Kenny Lofton and Francisco Lindor. Nor will changing the name erase the history of Tris Speaker, Lou Boudreau and Bob Feller.

Judging by the comments I’ve seen flashing about on social media, Cleveland fans OK with the switch are most often suggesting the name Spiders, resurrecting a nickname for the team that played in the American Association from 1891 to 1899. Marketers would have a field day with that name, and the franchise undoubtedly has others under consideration.

Buckeyes, for example. It would hearken back to a (mostly) Cleveland team in the Negro American League from 1942 to 1950. In the present day, the Buckeyes name is synonymous with teams of Ohio State University, and I’m tempted to back it because the name would certainly antagonize fans in Michigan, home of the Detroit Tigers.

But we don’t need a name to antagonize. We need one devoid of insensitivity, one that Cleveland fans can rally around without apology. Be that the Buckeyes, the Blues (another old name) or the Burning Rivers (my idea; you heard it here first!), I’m ready for a change.

7 thoughts on “Tangled web: Should the Indians rename themselves?

  1. I grew up in an area which was once part of the Iroquois Nation, and the school nicknames ran the gamut from “Redskins” (since changed, thankfully, though not without the attendant sturm und drang) to more specific names like “Senecans” to the generic “Indians”. For a very long time I thought “Indians” was OK…but it’s hard to defend the stuff which accompanies the name, such as Chief Wahoo or the embarrassing Tomahawk Chop in Atlanta. There are any number of ways to name the club to make it Cleveland specific, something the generic “Indians” nickname is not. As you say, it’s time.

  2. I agree with you completely. Never being able to enjoy Major League again seems like a small price to pay. I wish they’d used the Red Sox.

  3. Well put. I agree it’s time, but then again, based on what I’ve heard in an interview with members of the band ‘A Tribe Called Red,’ the symbols of the Blackhawks and Indians and Redskins and so on serve as a reminder of the racist world we live in so they wear the hats with these symbols and for a non-Native like myself, seeing the blatant racist symbols have inspired me to delve a bit into First Nations culture and quickly discover how significant they were and still are in terms of numbers of tribes and nations and beauty. I wonder if there were no Indians baseball team and Chief Wahoo, if I would have ever learned about Zuni Fetishes or the long distance running of the Raramuri and Mose Yellow Horse pitching for the Pirates. Hope you have a good holiday weekend.

  4. Good points! I grew up knowing some amount about native Americans as my parents pointed out heritage sites and encouraged an interest in history. I’ll be curious to see what some of the other franchises do, particularly the Braves. Have a great holiday.

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