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Cleveland’s MLB team announces its new name, will rebrand as the Guardians

“As a fifth-generation Clevelander, I understand the historic impact and importance of this decision,” Cleveland owner Paul Dolan said. (Tony Dejak/AP)
5 min

For the first time in more than a century, Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team will not be called the Indians when it begins play in 2022, the latest prominent institution forced to divorce itself from what many considered an offensive name amid a growing national conversation about race.

Starting at the end of the 2021 season, the team will be known as the Guardians, it announced Friday, a departure from its Native American-focused name that follows in the footsteps of Washington’s National Football League team abandoning its name in the face of mounting public pressure. It played the 2020 season as the Washington Football Team and has yet to announce a permanent name.

Cleveland’s new name was announced Friday in a video narrated by Tom Hanks that was posted on the team’s official Twitter account. “It’s always been Cleveland; that’s the best part of our name,” said Hanks, a longtime fan of the team. “And now it’s time to unite as one family, one community to build the next era for this team and this city.”

Cleveland held a news conference Friday to unveil the new logo and uniforms that will go into use after the 2021 season.

“As a fifth-generation Clevelander, I understand the historic impact and importance of this decision. Like many of you, I grew up with the name Indians,” owner Paul Dolan said at the news conference. “… Those memories do not diminish with a new name. Indians will always be a part of our history, just as Cleveland has always been the most important part of our identity.”

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Dolan announced in late 2020 that the franchise would move away from Indians amid intensifying pressure to dispose of the name. Calls to make a change grew louder during a national reckoning over race and social justice issues, and some in the industry were surprised to hear the team would continue using the name during the 2021 season — instead of following the lead of the Washington Football Team — even after announcing its intention to change it.

Team officials said the organization generated a list of 1,198 names since announcing it would change the name. On Friday, Cleveland made its choice official.

The name and logo are inspired by the Hope Memorial Bridge, which leads to Progressive Field and is home to massive stone statues known as the Guardians of Traffic. The idea, according to information about the name change offered on the team’s website, is to pay homage to the Guardians of Traffic watching over the city. As Hanks noted in the video the team released, the goal is to preserve Cleveland’s baseball tradition and the team’s place in the city.

“We sought a name that reflects the pride, resiliency and loyalty of Clevelanders, and Guardians embodies those defining attributes while drawing upon the iconic Guardians of Traffic,” Dolan said. “… This change will divert us from a divisive path and instead steer us toward a future where our fans, city and region are all united as Cleveland Guardians.”

The team’s new logo features a letter “G” with wings attached surrounding a baseball, “guarding everything that makes this game great,” Cleveland explained on its website. The typeface the team will use to spell out Guardians on its jersey will be more angular than the one it uses now, a nod to the angular architecture of the bridge and to a more pointed “C” the franchise used when it won titles in 1920 and 1948. Cleveland’s baseball team has not won the World Series since 1948, the longest active drought in the sport.

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The team’s colors — red, white and navy — will remain the same, according to Brian Barren, Cleveland’s president of business operations. Fans said it was important to them to maintain the colors the team had used for nearly a century, Barren said at the news conference.

“We let fan insight drive our decisions. Over the course of several months of research, we surveyed more than 40,000 fans. We conducted more than 140 hours of interviews with fans, community leaders and front office personnel,” Barren said, echoing a common refrain Friday, that the organization knows change will be drastic but it is necessary to move the city’s baseball tradition forward.

“We’re trying to be the best Cleveland organization we can be and be united for everybody and represent the city of Cleveland like it deserves,” said Cleveland Manager Terry Francona, who also played a season with the team. “… It’s easy to sit in the back and say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do this.’ Paul [Dolan] had to sit front and center. I think it took a lot of guts and a lot of bravery.”

Many praised the decision to abandon the Native American imagery, though former president Donald Trump issued his own statement calling the change a “disgrace.” The choice, meanwhile, was backed at the White House, where press secretary Jen Psaki said, “We certainly support their change of name.”

While social media erupted with jokes and affirmations, critiques and alternate suggestions, the most important part of the change lies in ceasing the use of Native Americans as a name or mascot — something teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Braves have yet to do. The future Guardians abandoned their red-faced, racist logo known as Chief Wahoo before the 2019 season, opting instead to emphasize a simpler “C” on hats and jerseys and move away from the Indians name.

“I am glad to see that the Cleveland baseball team is finally changing its name. The long practice of using Native American mascots and imagery in sports team has been harmful to Indigenous communities. This is a welcome and necessary change,” tweeted Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native American woman to serve in a presidential Cabinet.

Many corporations have moved away from Native American names and imagery in recent years, including Land O’ Lakes, which ditched its logo of a Native American woman in 2020. Eskimo Pies became Edy’s Pies, and the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League announced a name change, too. Mutual of Omaha dropped a picture of a Native American from its logo, and Squaw Valley ski resort in California changed its name.

Jason Wright, the Washington Football Team’s president, said this month that the permanent name will be announced next year and made clear the organization’s intentions to “choose an identity that unequivocally departs from any use of or approximate linkage to Native American imagery.”

“It’s not about us; it’s about other people,” Francona said. “You need to step outside of your own skin and think about people who may have different color skin and what they are thinking.”

Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report, which has been updated.