The Cleveland Indians are changing their name next season to the Cleveland Guardians, the Major League Baseball club announced Friday morning, after the current moniker drew criticism for decades from Native Americans.
“You see, there’s always been a Cleveland – that’s the best part of our name,” actor Tom Hanks says in a video announcement he narrated for the team, which posted it on Twitter. “And now it’s time to unite as one family, one community, to build the next era for this team and this city.”
The move is part of a larger cultural shift across the US as corporate brands reexamine their use of racist caricatures and stereotypical names.
“We acknowledge the name change will be difficult for some of us, and the transition will take time,” team owner Paul Dolan said. “It is our hope and belief this change will divert us from a divisive path and instead steer us towards a future where our fans, city, and region are all united as Cleveland Guardians.”
Manager Terry Francona, who played for the Indians and is the son of a former Cleveland player, said Friday, “We are trying to be the most respectful we can. And it’s not about us, it’s about other people.
“And you have to step outside your own skin and think about other people that may have different color skin and what they’re thinking. And we tried to be really respectful and I’m really proud of our organization.”
The team announced last year that it would be making a name change, joining the NFL’s Washington Football Team to say in 2020 that it was moving on from a name evoking Native Americans. Cleveland removed the “Chief Wahoo” logo, a caricature of a Native American character, from its uniforms following the 2018 season.
The choice of Guardians draws inspiration from Cleveland’s architectural history. The Guardians of Traffic are the large art deco statues that adorn the Hope Memorial Bridge that connects the city’s west side with the east side.
“Indians will always be part of our history, just as Cleveland has always been the most important part of our identity,” Dolan said. “In searching for a new brand, we sought a name that strongly reflects the pride, resiliency and loyalty of Clevelanders.”
The Cleveland club will retain its colors, according to the club.
A ‘welcome and necessary’ change
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet secretary, called the decision a “welcome and necessary change.”
“I am glad to see that the Cleveland baseball team is finally changing its name. The long practice of using Native American mascots and imagery in sports team has been harmful to Indigenous communities,” Haaland posted on Twitter Friday.
A prominent Native American activist also praised the club’s decision Friday.
Cleveland’s move proves it’s possible for sports teams to eliminate “harmful” names and mascots, said Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and executive director of IllumiNative.
“It is a major step towards righting the wrongs committed against Native peoples, and is one step towards justice,” Echo Hawk said in a statement.
Echo Hawk renewed her call for other sports teams with names evoking Native Americans to follow suit.
How Guardians was chosen
Guardians will be the fifth name in the franchise’s 120-year major league history, following the Blues, Bronchos and Naps – though Indians had by far the longest tenure, dating to 1915.
The team surveyed 40,000 fans, conducted 140 hours of interviews with fans, community leaders and staff, and considered more than 1,190 names before choosing Guardians, it said.
“‘Guardians’ reflects those attributes that define us while drawing on the iconic Guardians of Traffic just outside the ballpark on the Hope Memorial Bridge,” Dolan said in the team’s news release. “It brings to life the pride Clevelanders take in our city and the way we fight together for all who choose to be part of the Cleveland baseball family.
“While ‘Indians’ will always be a part of our history, our new name will help unify our fans and city as we are all Cleveland Guardians.”
CNN’s Terence Burlij, Nicquel Terry Ellis, Gregory Wallace and David Close contributed to this report.