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The View From Pluto: Social Change Calls for a New Name for the Cleveland Indians

a photo of a baseball with the Indians name and logo
The Cleveland Indians will play this season without fans, and possibly the last season with the current name.

The Cleveland Indians will likely have a new nickname in 2021. The team late last week issued a statement that it will discuss the best path forward in response to recent social unrest. They've been the Indians since 1915. 

WKSU’s sports commentator Terry Pluto says that while he personally doesn't have a problem with the Indians name, current social unrest prompts a change. 

Benching Chief Wahoo
Pluto said the Indians hadn't given much thought to changing the name of the team prior to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May that sparked a social justice movement. 

"I think they're tired of the cultural wars and they just feel 'let’s just start fresh.'"

"There had been some push in that direction, but primarily it was about Chief Wahoo," Pluto said. 

Pluto has long been an advocate for dropping the Chief Wahoo mascot, a move the Indians made last year. But he says the team name itself never bothered him. "Part of it is the experience I've had when I've gone out to Wyoming several times and the Wind River Indian Reservation -- the reservation is also known as Indian Country," he said. 

Still, Pluto says the team believes it's time for a change. "I think they're tired of the cultural wars and they just feel 'let’s just start fresh.'"  

Credit Cleveland101.com
Shortly after WWII, Cleveland had a Negro League team called the Buckeyes

Corporate sponsor pressure
Recent corporate pressure played a role in the name change process for the Washington Redskins NFL team, as FedEx and other sponsors forced the owner Dan Snyder to reconsider his stance

"The Indians didn't want their top corporate sponsors to begin putting public pressure," Pluto said. Their big sponsors include Progressive and Sherwin Williams. 

"If I were running the Indians, it's hard enough to win in baseball. It's hard enough to draw fans. It's hard enough to do things in the middle of a pandemic. I don't feel like fighting about a name," Pluto said.   

New names
Pluto says he's received about 100 emails with ideas for a new name, from the Spiders (what the team was called from 1887 to 1889) to the Guardians (after the Guardians of Traffic) to the Buckeyes, which Pluto says was the name of Cleveland's Negro League team shortly after WWII.   

"Often in my stories, I call the Indians the Tribe far more than I call them the Indians. I like that. But they're not going to go there; it's too associated with the old name. They'll want something completely different," he said.  

Pluto says it's a great marketing opportunity, and perhaps a chance to have fans vote. 

"That's what the [Cleveland] Cavaliers did way back when, when they were first starting in 1970," Pluto said.

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production
Sean Fitzgerald is an announcer/board operator at Ideastream Public Media.