It’s not the worst name. That is pretty much the consolation prize for many Cleveland fans still struggling with the name change to the Guardians. After 105 years, the Cleveland Indians’ moniker is no more and has been that way for several months now. So why all the hubbub, bub?
In general, people dislike change. Tradition can create a very unstable scenario when you talk about discarding it, good or bad. People cling to what they know, what they are comfortable with and changing the name of a sports franchise that has been its identity for over a century will never go smoothly. Last October, my girlfriend and I were in Tampa for a Buccaneers game. Prior to the game, we stopped in the Tampa Visitor Center where we were greeted by one very cordial employee of the business. When she inquired as to where we were from and we replied, “Cleveland,” she promptly asked, “What’s going on with y’all’s baseball team?” She wasn’t interested in stats or the team’s 2022 outlook. This was all about the name change.
Before I get to our reply to the friendly Floridian, I will be the first to admit I struggled with discarding the Indians name. At five years old, that was the first pro sports team I truly became aware of. There was me in my Indians uniform holding my yellow wiffle bat, eventually meeting then-player Mike Hargrove soon after. Then of course there’s Chief Wahoo. As someone born and raised in Greater Cleveland, I never looked at the modern version of that logo as racist or hateful, then again, I have no Native American lineage in my blood. That’s where we head back to the Tampa Visitor Center.
The woman stated, “I head to New Mexico every other year because my husband and I have family down there. We talk to Native Americans all the time when we’re there and they actually like the name (Indians). They view it as a badge of honor.” Granted this is one person stating this, a small sample size to be sure. There’s always my father’s Army buddy who is Native American and has a certain adoration for Chief Wahoo and no distaste for the name ‘Indians’. I know what you’re thinking, these are all people that I know or met. No one else can quantify what I’m claiming. Well, let’s revisit a USA Today poll from around 2013 which has conveniently been removed from online searches. The poll asked a population of Native Americans if they were offended by the Cleveland Indians name. Approximately five percent said they were. Five.
That is absolutely not for me to say those people should or should not be offended. Those should be exactly the people asked for their thoughts on this matter. In today’s America, we have far too many people who want to be offended for someone who is not offended. As one co-worker asked, “Who are the people that want the name change? Where are they? There’s never one specific person. Maybe there is one specific person and I missed that, but there is this underlying frustration of creating a sweeping change for the sake of change. Again, people generally dislike change, but compound that change with what feels like a forced effort and now it adds a layer of resentment in the move.
Case in point, it has been well documented that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred approached Cleveland Indians owner Larry Dolan and threatened that there’d be no 2019 All Star Game for the city if Dolan didn’t change the name. Name change announced, All Star Game held. Whatever happened to the old adage, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander?” The Atlanta Braves are retaining their name. Manfred finds that franchise’s nickname suitable, but not the Indians? Come on, Rob. I’m throwing zingers over the plate and your calling balls all day. Make up your mind.
Maybe the Indians name was a problem and I’m just too ignorant to have noticed through all these years, that’s not sarcasm but a real possibility, but if we are indeed upsetting far more Native Americans than what a USA Today poll led us to believe, then all those indigenous sports names should go. While we’re at it, pirates raped and pillaged. Sorry, Pittsburgh. The American historical figure Buffalo Bill slaughtered thousands of American bison for no good reason, decimating the animals’ population. Sorry, Buffalo. The vikings murdered thousands of monks. Sorry, Minnesota. The point being is what’s next and when does it end?
Perhaps tradition did get a hold of me and hundreds of thousands of others who have a problem with the Indians changing their name. Maybe we are in the wrong. I can fully accept that if it is the case. On the other hand, I can reference the case of Florida State University and its nickname of the Seminoles. I enjoy a good laugh when people demand the school change that name. One, it shows the lack of research people have done. Two, the Seminole Nation widely approves that name attached to the school. Three, see one and two.
Granted, the Indians is not as specific a name as a particular tribe in the case of the Seminoles. So I see the potential discrepancy in comparing the two. Still, questions remain as we look at the Indians’ name in the rearview. Did the media fail us in holding back just how offensive names like the Indians, Chiefs and Fighting Sioux are/were to those who held this land first, or is cancel culture more of a cancer culture?