Major League Baseball’s Cleveland team will drop the “Indians” name, after persistent criticism that it was offensive to Native Americans, but will continue to use it during the 2021 season.
In a statement, team owner Paul Dolan said that after hearing statements firsthand of Native American people, they gained an understanding of the impact of the name.
“Hearing firsthand the stories and experiences of Native American people, we gained a deep understanding of how tribal communities feel about the team name and the detrimental effects it has on them,” he said.
The announcement comes amid a nationwide reckoning over racial inequality in the United States that prompted the National Football League’s Washington franchise to drop the “Redskins” team name in July after 87 years.
The Cleveland team said in a statement it would begin the process of “determining a new, non-Native American based name for the franchise” 105 years after its institution, citing a desire to unify its community.
Cleveland did not specify a timeline for rolling out a new name, which they described as a “multi-phase process,” but the earliest that the “Indians” name would be dropped is the 2022 season.
Unlike Washington in the NFL, who immediately discontinued the use of their name and adopted the temporary moniker “Washington Football Team” while they develop a new brand, Cleveland said they will continue using the “Indians” name until a new one is identified.
“For six decades our community has fought tirelessly to be recognised as diverse and vibrant, instead of portrayed in inaccurate and harmful ways,” said the Cleveland Indigenous Coalition, which is collaborating with the team during its transition to a new name.
“By agreeing to change the team name away from Indigenous themes, the Cleveland baseball team is helping to create a place where Native American children and their families feel valued and fully seen.”
The use of mascots and names that reference Native Americans is a deeply embedded practice in all levels of competitive sport, from youth leagues through collegiate programs and professional franchises, drawing frequent criticism from communities that believe the practice to be offensive.
In the US, teams including the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Chicago Blackhawks and MLB’s Atlanta Braves have previously stated no intention to alter their names.