The Cleveland Indians issued a statement Friday announcing that they intended to engage the community and "appropriate stakeholders" to determine a path forward with respect to the team name.
The statement arrived on the heels of the Washington NFL franchise announcing plans to do the same, under pressure from FedEx, Nike and other corporate sponsors. (Profits tend to drive these franchises' decisions, and Scene has maintained for years that the Indians would only ever fully abandon Chief Wahoo and rebrand when it became financially advantageous to do so. The front office may feel that this is an opportune moment.)
A team rebrand is long overdue. The franchise has been called the Indians since 1915. Its racist Chief Wahoo logo has been associated with the team since 1947. Wahoo was downgraded from the team's primary logo in 2013 and fully removed from team caps and jerseys in 2018, in order to secure an All-Star Game in Cleveland.
Manager Terry Francona said he agreed that it was "time to move forward" in a call with reporters Sunday. He said that while he'd always believed, and still does, that the team hasn't been intentionally disrespectful, that's no longer good enough.
"Even at my age, you don't want to be too old to learn or to realize that maybe I've been ignorant of some things, and to be ashamed of it, and to try to be better," Francona said. "I'm glad that we're going to be open to listening because I think that's probably the most important thing right now, is being willing to listen, not necessarily just talk."
Like other logos and mascots that depict Native Americans, the Cleveland baseball team's name and imagery is harmful to the psychology of native communities, particularly children. Emphasizing the negative social impacts on indigenous people was the thrust of the response to the announcement by local Native American groups.
"Native Americans, like all people, want our children to believe in themselves and have the confidence to follow their dreams," said Josh Hunt, Vice-Chair of the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance, in a statement provided to the media Monday. "A growing body of scientific research clearly demonstrates Native American team names and logos reflect and reinforce harmful racial stereotypes about Native Americans. These images and team names have been found to contribute to low self-esteem, low community worth, increased stress and depression in Native people—especially in Native youth."
Cynthia Connolly, an Executive Board Member of the Lake Erie Native American Council, noted that Cleveland City Council recently passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis.
"Once Mayor Jackson signs it," she said, "the city will be bound by CDC requirements to eliminate the conditions that cause Clevelanders of color to have worse health than white Clevelanders. If this city is serious about this work, our leaders must call for the professional baseball team to end the use of all Indigenous themes and imagery.”
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