With Guardians, Cleveland Steps Away From an Offensive Name
Philip Yenyo has been protesting outside baseball stadiums in Cleveland for 30 years, demanding that the local Major League Baseball team change a name many consider racist. But next spring, Yenyo will put up his signs and take his 11-year-old son inside Progressive Field for the first time.
“We can finally go to a game,” said Yenyo, executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio. “I can’t wait to tell him. We have been waiting for this for a very long time. “
Yenyo will be able to attend as Cleveland announced on Friday that it will change its name from Indians to Guardians, becoming the latest sports team to move away from team names and mascots referring to Indigenous peoples.
For decades, Native American groups like Yenyo and others have called on sports teams to eliminate Native names, mascots and images, insisting they are racist, degrading, and promote stereotypes. Momentum for widespread change has been building in recent years and accelerating last summer amid social justice protests over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin.
In the wake of the large-scale social justice protests that followed Floyd’s death, the Washington football team rejected the name “Redskins”, in large part thanks to pressure from sponsors like FedEx, Nike and Pepsi. . Cleveland was considered the next most prominent Indigenous team name in American sports, and in December the team decided to make the switch, 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, senior vice president of NCAI and also president of Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, praised Cleveland for making what he said was a difficult, but appropriate, decision.
“I’m sure there will be some hindsight,” said Dr Payment, “But they’re on the right side of history and deserve credit for it. This new name forever closes the books on a derogatory name. .
Some of the strongest pushbacks came from former President Donald J. Trump, who described himself as a “former” baseball fan and called the change a shame.
“A small group of people with absolutely crazy ideas and policies are forcing these changes to destroy our culture and our heritage,” he said in a statement.
But the team is moving inexorably away from the name that has been dividing for years, and Guardians will be the fifth name in franchise history (the team was also known as Blues, Bronchos and Naps). In 2019, Cleveland ditched its cartoonish Chief Wahoo logo, which Major League Baseball declared inappropriate for use on the field.
Terry Francona, the Cleveland manager and former team player, whose father also played there, said the goal was to represent the whole city.
“It’s not about us,” he told a press conference. “These are other people, and you have to step out of your own skin and think about other people who may have a different skin color and what they are thinking. We try to be extremely respectful and I’m really proud of our organization.
The new name, which was introduced by the club with new logos 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. A group of massive, winged Art Deco sculptures on the span are known as Traffic Wardens and are said to be symbols of progress. They are a short drive from the team stadium.
The new logo of a flashing G with wings, borrowed from the statues, also has an Art Deco touch and the styling of the new “Guardians” logo would mimic the trusses below the bridge. The colors will remain the same: red, white and blue.
Paul Dolan, president and CEO of the team, told the press conference that he was a fifth-generation Clevelander who had grown up with the old name.
“We recognize that the name change will be difficult for some of us and that the transition will take time,” he said. “We hope and believe this change will take us off a divisive path and instead point us towards a future where our fans, our city and our region will all be united as the Cleveland Guardians.”
The club said over the past few months it has embarked on a massive outreach program with some 40,000 fans to come up with the new nickname and conducted 140 hours of interviews with community members and staff. of the team. They said they generated a list of 1,198 possible names. Alex King, Cleveland’s vice president of marketing and strategy, said the Traffic Guard statues have grown in popularity and popularity in the city over the years, especially among young adults, who consume craft beers in mugs, placed on coasters, T-shirts, with each element representing the statues.
“We knew it wouldn’t resonate as nationally as it did locally,” he said, “and that’s fine with us. We really wanted to highlight the local with the new name.
For a while, it seemed the Spiders, the nickname used by a former Cleveland National League team from 1889 to 1899, were a favorite. Others suggested that a reference to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, a few blocks from the stadium, would be appropriate.
“I was hoping it would be spiders,” Yenyo said. “But the Guardians are good too. I was listening to sports radio this morning and people were complaining and saying they didn’t know what that referred to. If you’re a Clevelander, you better know this stuff.
The Cleveland team have said they plan to formalize the change after the current season ends. With that settled, Dr Payment said his organization and others would focus on various other teams – like the Atlanta Braves of the MLB, the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL and the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL – who use Aboriginal names and images. All of these teams have said they have no plans to change their names.
But earlier this month, the Portland Winterhawks, a minor league hockey team, changed their logo from Native to Hawk, garnering praise from Suzan Harjo, a Native American activist and one of the early supporters of the elimination of indigenous names and mascots.
“It’s been a good July,” she said of the two recent changes. “It shows, it’s never too late to do the right thing.”
Harjo said the declaration of the new name was bittersweet, however, as it cannot erase the decades of damage it has caused, as well as other similar names.
“They have long capitalized on sectarianism,” she said. “This has caused real harm to indigenous peoples, and little children are growing up feeling this tremendous pain.”
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