With Guardians, Cleveland Steps Away From an Offensive Name

With Guardians, Cleveland Steps Away From an Offensive Name

With Guardians, Cleveland Steps Away From an Offensive Name

With Guardians, Cleveland Steps Away From an Offensive Name

Philip Yenyo has been protesting outside Cleveland’s baseball stadiums for 30 years, demanding the local Major League Baseball team change a name many consider racist. But next spring, Yenyo will put down his signs and take his 11-year-old son inside the stadium for the first time.

“We can finally go to a game,” said Yenyo, the executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio. “I can’t wait to tell him. We’ve been waiting a very long time for this.”

Yenyo will be able to attend because Cleveland’s baseball team announced on Friday that it will change its name from Indians to Guardians, becoming the latest sports team to veer away from team names and mascots that reference Indigenous people.

For decades, Native American groups like Yenyo’s and others have petitioned sports teams to eliminate Indigenous names, mascots and imagery, insisting that they are racist, degrading and that they promote stereotypes. Momentum for widespread change had been building in recent years, and was accelerated last summer amid the protests for social justice following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

In the wake of large-scale protests for social justice that followed Floyd’s death, the Washington Football Team discarded the name “Redskins,” thanks in large part to pressure from sponsors like FedEx, Nike and Pepsi. Cleveland was considered the next highest profile Indigenous team name in American sports, and in December the team made the decision to move on after consulting with local and national Indigenous organizations.

One of the organizations the team turned to was the National Congress of American Indians. Aaron Payment, N.C.A.I.’s first vice president and also chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, lauded Cleveland for making what he said was a difficult, but appropriate decision.

“I’m sure there will be some pushback,” Dr. Payment said, “But they are on the right side of history and deserve credit for it. This new name closes the books forever on a derogatory name.”

One loud voice of opposition against the Guardians name was former President Donald J. Trump, who described himself as a “former” baseball fan and on Friday said the change was a disgrace.

“A small group of people, with absolutely crazy ideas and policies, is forcing these changes to destroy our culture and heritage,” Trump said in a statement. “At some point, the people will not take it anymore!”

The Guardians name, which was introduced by the club along with a new logo in a two-minute video on the team’s Twitter account, has some resonance with Ohio residents who regularly cross the Cuyahoga River on the Hope Memorial Bridge, which is a short drive from the team’s home at Progressive Field. A group of massive Art Deco sculptures on the span, known as the Guardians of Traffic, are said to be symbols of progress. The new logo of a flashing G with wings also has an Art Deco feel to it.

The club said that it engaged in an extensive outreach program with some 40,000 fans to find the new moniker and conducted over 100 hours of interviews with community members and team staff. Another candidate was the Spiders, a nicknamed used by a previous Cleveland team long ago.

“I was hoping it would be Spiders,” Yenyo said. “But Guardians is good, too. I was listening to sports talk radio this morning and people were complaining and saying they don’t know what it refers to. If you are a Clevelander, you better know this stuff.”

The Cleveland team said it planned to make the change official after the current season ends.

Meanwhile, Dr. Payment said his organization and others continue to focus on other teams — like M.L.B.’s Atlanta Braves, the Kansas City Chiefs of the N.F.L. and the Chicago Blackhawks of the N.H.L. — that use Native names and imagery. All of those teams have said they have no plans to change their names.

But earlier this month, the Portland Winterhawks, a minor-league hockey team, changed its logo from an Indigenous person to a hawk, eliciting praise from Suzan Shown Harjo, a Native American activist and one of the earliest proponents for change.

“It’s been a good July,” she said of the two rebrandings. “It just shows, it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

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