With the 2021 free agency period moving at a glacial pace, the New York Times dropped the biggest news of the offseason so far with their report that the Cleveland MLB franchise is planning to end use of the “Indians” team name. It appears this decision may not take immediate effect for the upcoming season, but rather for the 2022 season. It comes as social pressure for sports teams to end usage of names and iconography associated with Indigenous peoples has gained steam, leading the Washington NFL franchise to compete under the name “Washington Football Team” for the 2020-21 season.
In 2018, Cleveland’s MLB franchise announced it would end usage of the racist Chief Wahoo logo on uniforms and in their stadium starting in the 2019 season, ahead of the All-Star Game held in Cleveland. However, they did not stop selling merchandise branded with Chief Wahoo. This leads me to cynically believe the team will seek to continue profiting off Indians merchandise during and after the rebrand.
Cleveland’s decision leaves one remaining MLB franchise that plans to continue using a team name associated with Indigenous peoples, the Atlanta club. With Cleveland set to initiate a rebrand, this means negative attention will be focused on Atlanta. I do not expect them to hold out for long, as sponsors have started to become involved in pushing team name changes. We also may see the Commissioner’s Office step in. However, I do not expect this to happen immediately since labor negotiations ahead of the 2021 season will be especially fraught, occupying most of Rob Manfred’s attention.
The city of Cleveland has a rich baseball history to call upon as it begins the rebranding process. I look forward to the new name choice. There should be plenty of time to decide on a new name and avoid competing as the “Cleveland Baseball Team” in 2022.
Featured Image: A view of Progressive Field in Cleveland by Harold Stiver / Shutterstock.com.