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Cleveland Indians Owners Confirm, a Name Change Is Coming

a photo of the Indians sign at Progressive Field
Gayle S. Putrich
The team's 105-year old nickname is illuminated at Progressive Field as post-game fireworks kick off in July 2019. The process to change the name of Cleveland's baseball team may not be complete until the 2022 season.

Updated: 4:29 p.m., Monday, Dec. 14, 2020

Cleveland Indians ownership on Monday afternoon confirmed that the process of changing the team name has officially begun.
The New York Timesreported the team’s intent Sunday night, using anonymous sources.

“Our decision to change the current name is phase one of a multi-phased process,” team owner and CEO Paul Dolan wrote in a Monday letter to fans. “Future decisions, including the new name and brand development, are complex and will take time. We believe our new name will take us into the future and proudly represent this storied franchise for decades and generations to come. In light of the importance, we will not rush these decisions.”

Dolan and the team’s front office hinted at a possible name change over the summer, with a statement that came on the heels of the decision by the Washington, D.C., football team to drop a nickname long considered to be racist.

Fans are seemingly split over the issue.

Alyssa Velotta, 33, who has spent many Summer nights at “The Corner” inside Progressive Field eating “Dollar Dogs” and socializing with Tribe fans in her generation, is happy with the announcement and believes the name should've been changed years ago.

“When they first announced it in July, I was a little skeptical that they were actually going to follow through with it,” Velotta said. “It seemed like it was very much an opportunistic announcement. Now, I stand corrected.
"Now that they are making it official, I almost feel relieved that they are finally doing the right thing," Velotta said.

Terry Kavouras has been attending Indians games since the 1960's and said the change is unnecessary.

“We’re going to take extra super care to not insult anybody and I don't know how it's insulting,” Kavouras said. “I really don't understand it, but again, I’m just an old Boomer, so what do I know?”

Kavouras said he doesn’t see much difference between a nickname like the Indians or the Spartans.

“My ancestors were Spartans,” Kavouras said. “You know, if you call your team Spartans I think that’s honorable, really. You’re saying ‘I want to associate myself with these legendary warriors.’”

In his letter, Dolan pointed out that Native American groups and researchers were among those consulted by the club, and although members within the same organizations sometimes had differing opinions, changing the name will better unify the Cleveland community.

Velotta said as a white woman, it's not her thoughts and opinions that should be used as a measuring stick.

“When indigenous people are coming in and they are saying ‘I am offended by this. I do not like this name,’ I need to take their feelings into consideration and not my own,” Velotta said.

Velotta also believes the team should change their name to the Guardians, after the sculptures on the Hope Memorial Bridge known as the Guardians of Traffic.

“You want to look for something that is uniquely Cleveland that completely takes things away from the direction they were in, the offensive direction that they were in, what has caused so much pain and make something that all of us can recognize as locals,” Velotta said.

While Kavouras said the announcement doesn’t really change his opinion on the team, he doens't plan to rush out to buy new merchandise or otherwise financially support the club.

“It’s going to take a while for this to kind of settle in to my bones, as it were, and I wouldn’t want to be like the first kid on the block with the new team name because it does bug me,” Kavouras said. “It does bother me a little bit that it's changing.

“In a way, it’s a new team, right?” Kavouras said. “Because they got kind of a new ethos, right? That’s now going to be in line with every other social justice issue, I guess.”

In a statement, the team said the decision has been made to begin the process of changing to a new, non-Native American based name, but will remain the Indians until a new name is selected. 

In 2018, the Indians began the now completed phase-out of mascot Chief Wahoo after decades of concerns it was a racist caricature. Some Native Americans have long felt the team’s name should change as well, regularly protesting outside the stadium downtown, including at the 2020 MLB season opener in Cleveland.

Dolan acknowledged in his statement that many fans oppose changing the name.

“Like many of you, I grew up with this name and have many great memories of past Indians teams,” Dolan wrote. “While I have often associated these unforgettable memories with the name Indians, I sincerely believe Cleveland is the most important part of our team name.”

On the Indians web site, the team offered details of their efforts to listen and learn from Native American communities. Not all views were the same, but several common themes arose.

“Many of the Native Americans we spoke with described feeling as though the true narrative of their people – the story of who they are – has been erased and replaced by things like our team name,” the web post reads.

It also noted Native American groups said popular culture has a lot to do with the perception of Native American people: “They expressed a belief that instead of immediately thinking about modern members of society who may be doctors, teachers, or engineers, many people tend to first think of a caricature of ‘Indians.’”

The team also noted that using the Indians name may be problematic beyond the Native American community: “Cleveland civic leaders shared that our name was having a negative impact on various communities of color – not just Native American communities. Individuals felt our name prevents us from building an inclusive relationship with the broader Cleveland community.”

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