Spurred by mass protests against racism this summer, sports franchises with Native American-related names, mascots or logos faced pressure to stop using these stereotypes and caricatures.
Since then, the NFL’s Washington Redskins and, as of Sunday, MLB’s Cleveland Indians agreed to drop their monikers. Several others, including the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Blackhawks, made adjustments to their traditions but have defended their names and logos.
Native American leaders have long called on sports teams to move away from racist caricatures, stereotypes or, in the case of the NFL’s Washington franchise, an ethnic slur.
“Change the Mascot is heartened to see the growing movement across professional sports to eliminate Native American mascots, and we hope this trend continues,” Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter, leader of the Change the Mascot campaign, said in a statement.
Here’s a look at what these teams have said and done on the subject since this summer.
Washington Football Team
The NFL franchise in Washington, DC, dropped its moniker and changed its name to the Washington Football Team in July.
The prior name had long been denounced by Native American groups as an ethnic slur and a derogatory reference to skin color. The decision was finally made after this summer’s protests and after pressure from some of the team’s sponsors, including FedEx, which has the naming rights to the team’s stadium.
“In light of recent events around our country and feedback from our community, the Washington Redskins are announcing the team will undergo a thorough review of (its) name,” the franchise said in a statement at the time. “This review formalizes the initial discussions the team has been having with the league in recent weeks.”
Faced with a tight deadline, the franchise decided on the “Washington Football Team” for this season pending the adoption of a new team name. The name change came with a new logo: a bold “W” in the same burgundy and gold colors.
The change was a long time coming. Once known as the Boston Braves, founder George Preston Marshall changed the team’s name to “Redskins” in 1933 to avoid confusion with baseball’s Boston Braves.
Efforts to change the name date at least as far back as 1971-72, as The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg has documented. Native American groups have consistently pushed the team to change its name, including in protests in 1992 and lawsuits in 1999 and 2009. In 2013, amid renewed calls for a name change, owner Dan Snyder told USA Today he would “never” do so.
This summer, the team removed Marshall’s name from a facade in FedEx Field and removed a monument to him from outside the Redskins’ former stadium. Marshall was well known for opposing integration of the NFL and didn’t sign an African American to the roster until 1962 – 16 years after the league started signing Black players.
Cleveland’s baseball team
The Major League Baseball team in Cleveland will drop “Indians” from its name, though not immediately, team owner Paul Dolan said in a letter to fans Monday.
“This afternoon, we officially announced our organization has decided to begin the process of changing the name Indians and move forward to determine a new name that will better unify our community and build on our legacy for a new generation,” he said.
The team will continue using the existing name and branding until a new one is chosen. The change was first reported by The New York Times.
In July, the franchise said it was reviewing its use of the name, citing the country’s mass protests.
“The recent social unrest in our community and our country has only underscored the need for us to keep improving as an organization on issues of social justice,” the team said then. “With that in mind, we are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.”
The “Indians” name was originally chosen by the team and a group of baseball newspaper writers in 1915.
Though the exact story of its origin is unclear, the name was partly based on the contemporary success of the Boston Braves, who won the 1914 World Series, as well as on Louis Sockalexis, a former Native American baseball star in Cleveland who died in 1913, according to Cleveland Magazine.
Cleveland removed its “Chief Wahoo” logo, a racist caricature of a Native American character, from their uniforms after the 2018 season.
Kansas City Chiefs
The NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs announced in August that fans won’t be allowed to wear ceremonial headdresses or have Native American-style face paint in the team’s stadium.
In addition, the team’s leadership is reviewing the fans’ use of the controversial tomahawk chop as well as Arrowhead Stadium’s area known as “Drum Deck,” where people hit a giant native-style drum embellished with the team’s logo to open each game. The team said it was exploring ways to modify its use of drums in a way that “better represents the spiritual significance of the drum in American Indian cultures.”
The Chiefs said the changes were a result of discussions with “a group of local leaders from diverse American Indian backgrounds and experiences” over the past six years.
“As an organization, our go