Call them the language police or the demolition culture; Those who seem offended by it all are also all busy violently renaming professional sports teams. Having primarily focused on college teams with “offensive” Native American mascot names from the 1970s, it was only a matter of time before their focus shifted to the NFL and MLB. Take the Cleveland Indians.
As with the replacement of the Washington Redskins with the Washington Football Team, there will soon be no official trace of this historic baseball team. Proponents of the club’s name change (like their college-level ancestors) never represented a majority of Native Americans. However, they spoke the loudest and longest, waiting for the rest of the demolition culture to catch up with them. So it came as no surprise that within hours of Washington’s decision in July 2020, Cleveland announced that the company would also begin a thorough review of its own team name.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona was on board from the start. Praise to the team for trying to “do the right thing” and expressing pride when the decision was confirmed.
Team owner Paul Dolan has said the team will stay as Indians through at least the 2021 season and that a tentative name will not be adopted until a new one is selected. He added that “Tribe,” a popular nickname for many Cleveland fans, is not an option as a new team name. Additionally, with a Native American connotation, the organization steps back from everything. This includes the picture “Chief Wahoo”, which has been associated with the club since 1947 at the insistence of the owner Bill Veeck.
The decision to rename has been coming for some time. After the 2018 season, MLB commissioners Rob Manfred and Dolan announced that the mascot would no longer appear on team uniforms or stadium signage. Interestingly, despite all the apologetic craftsmanship, fans can still buy team items that carry the popular image at Jacob’s Field and some Ohio retail stores.
As early as 1953, long before political correctness opened its borders, the Cincinnati Reds changed the team’s name to “Redlegs”. This was a time of geopolitical tension during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Communists were commonly referred to as “Reds,” and the Cincinnati professional baseball team feared any negative association. Redlegs was a natural replacement as fans used the term from the club’s formation as Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869. However, there were still problems.
Despite the official name change, Cincinnati’s jerseys continued to feature the word Reds in the wishbone C on the chest until it was removed in 1956. Many fans still referred to the team as the Reds.
By 1957, Senator Joseph McCarthy, the man who hyped “Red Fear”, was dead. Cincinnati restored its household name for the 1959 season and “Reds” returned to the wishbone-C uniform during the 1961 pennant win campaign.
Like Cincinnati, Cleveland is a city steeped in history. And while Native Americans used the term “firewater” to describe the liquor the white man provided them, owner Dolan might consider renaming his team the Cleveland Flames to match the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire to remember. The flame would make an excellent logo and is actually pretty catchy. With the success of the Indians after the season, it might even help them win a pennant. What Cleveland fan could possibly object!
Mark Figley is a political activist and visiting columnist from Elida. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editors of The Lima News or of AIM Media, owner of The Lima News. Reach out to him at [email protected].