'Not a moment too soon': Native American community welcomes Cleveland baseball team name change

The team's new name will be the Guardians, Tom Hanks announced in team video.

July 23, 2021, 2:46 PM

Following decades of backlash from the Native American community, Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team announced that the franchise will change its name from the Indians to the Guardians.

The team initially announced its intention to change its name in December 2020, but the new name was shared on the team's official Twitter account Friday morning in a video narrated by actor Tom Hanks, a longtime fan.

The new name is a nod to the Guardians of Traffic, the city’s iconic statues on the Hope Memorial Bridge and is set to take effect at the end of the 2020 season.

The final decision was a product of interviews with fans, community leaders, a survey of 40,000 fans and team brainstorming sessions, which generated 1,198 name options that were winnowed down through 14 rounds of vetting, according to a Friday MLB press release.

"While inspired by the iconic sculptures of the Hope Memorial Bridge, our Guardians name is a reflection of the traits we, as Clevelanders, take pride in the most—fierce loyalty, unwavering support, and a resolve to stand side by side through thick and thin," the franchise says on its website. "As a team, as an organization, as citizens of Cleveland, we hope to protect and preserve all that we love about this city."

The team's official Twitter account also shared the new logo -- a "G," with wings in an illustration on Twitter.

For the Native American community, including advocates in Ohio who have been urging the franchise to drop the Native American moniker for decades, the name change is welcomed but long overdue.

“We are excited. This has been a long half century of adjuration towards this name change. It is coming not a moment too soon," Sundance, director of the Cleveland branch of the American Indian Movement, told ABC News in a phone interview on Friday, but urged the franchise to continue to engage in dialogue with the Native American community.

Sundance is a member of the Muscogee tribe who led a successful effort to change the mascot of a high school from the Oberlin Indians to the Oberlin Phoenix.

The organization he leads has been urging national and local teams with indigenous names and mascots to change their names for more than 50 years through lawsuits, protests and public appeals, arguing that making Native Americans mascots further dehumanizes a community that has been oppressed for centuries.

“For the moment we’re just all floating on the good news that the name is changed, but I hope this does not mean that Cleveland baseball has ceased to dialogue," he said. "I am hoping that this will be an avenue for them to meet the Native community in northeast Ohio on an even playing field," he added.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the country’s oldest and largest American Indian and Alaska Native tribal government organization, applauded Cleveland baseball's name change in a statement on Friday.

"The Cleveland baseball team has taken another important step forward in healing the harms its former mascot caused Native people, in particular Native youth," NCAI President Fawn Sharp said. “We call on the other professional sports teams and thousands of schools across the country that still cling to their antiquated Native ‘themed’ mascots to immediately follow suit."

Before deciding to change their name the Cleveland team stopped using the Chief Wahoo logo on their uniforms in 2019.

"Hearing firsthand the stories and experiences of Native American people, we gained a deep understanding of how tribal communities feel about the team name and the detrimental effects it has on them," team owner and chairman Paul Dolan said in a statement in December 2020.

He also said in an interview with The Associated Press at the time that the police killing of George Floyd was an “awakening or epiphany” that contributed to the team’s decision.

Amid nationwide protests and an energized civil rights movement sparked by the killing of Floyd, Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, announced in July 2020 that the team would change its name to the Washington Football Team, after FedEx, which has naming rights to the stadium, requested a change.

According to an October 2020 FiveThirtyEight analysis, hundreds of schools across the country still use Native Americans as their team mascots -- monikers widely seen as racist and dehumanizing to the Native American community.

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