CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Indians have finally returned to Progressive Field in preparation for the new season, long delayed by the coronavirus.
But it’s the ball club’s recent off-the-field news about possibly changing the team name that has people – including President Trump – talking.
National protests over racial injustice have sparked a re-awaking, forcing institutions and governments to confront complicated histories over statues, flags and names.
A reckoning is now happening in sports. The Washington Redskins, pushed by sponsors, announced it’s re-evaluating its team name, what many have cried is a racist slur.
On Friday, the Cleveland Indians announced it will review its more than 100-year history with the team name.
Josh Hunt, a Cheyenne Indian and vice-chair of the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity & Resistance, which campaigns against teams using Native Americans names and mascots in sports, says some teams are only reconsidering because advertisers are pressuring them.
“We have been shouting and yelling and demanding this change for decades and it is only now that a series of tragedies have occurred that we are being listened to,” he told 3News. “Whether it’s the Indians, the Warriors or the racial slur – the redskins – these harm Native Americans and we have scientific evidence showing the it is dangerous to self-esteem, damages youth and hurts our ability imagine a future for us and instills feelings of shame.”
Today, President Trump criticized teams for considering changes.
“They name teams out of STRENGTH, not weakness, but now the Washington Redskins & Cleveland Indians, two fabled sports franchises, look like they are going to be changing their names in order to be politically correct,” he wrote in a Tweet.
Hunt has long said eliminating Native American names and mascots from sports is about being historically correct, pointing to the Cleveland's depiction of Chief Wahoo as a bucked-tooth, red-faced Indian as anything but correct.
“It relegates us to that of only existing as a Great Plains people of the 1800s,” he said. “By erasing us from the present, which it does, it obscures our contemporary issues, whether its oil pipelines or the epidemic of indigenous women gone missing or killed.”
The history of Cleveland Indians name is a convoluted and debated one. Some people – including the team’s front office – have embraced the narrative that the name honors Native Americans and player Louis Sockalexis. Others, point to a group of sports writers picking the name without historical foundation. At the time, some team owners co-opted the names and imagery of indigenous people for marketing purposes.
He said the use of Indians and the Chief Wahoo is racist and harmful to Native Americans.
“We know there’s growing body of research that shows mascots and team names are harmful and given that Cleveland just passed a declaration that racism is a public health crisis, we would like them to start with Progressive Field and the baseball team, he said.”
Chief Wahoo made his last appearance on baseball uniform in 2018 when the Huston Astros swept the Indians out of the playoffs (though merchandise is still available.) But activists have not stopped demanding a new name. That’s why Hunt and others will be here later this month for opening day again to chant, “Change the name, change the logo.”
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