The Cleveland Major League Baseball team is set to change its name to Guardians, as the franchise announced on Friday, dropping the racially offensive name by which it has been known for more than a century.
The change was announced in a video on Twitter narrated by Academy Award winner Tom Hanks, who started his acting career in Cleveland and starred in the women’s baseball film “A League of Its Own.”
The Guardians name is a nod to well-known Art Deco statues on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, which spans the Cuyahoga River and connects downtown Cleveland with trendy Ohio City. These statues are known as the “guardians of the traffic”.
The franchise, which announced the name change in a tweet on Friday morning, had long been pressured by activists locally and nationally to give up the name “Indian”, which critics described as racist. It was the name of the baseball club since 1915.
The announcement did not say when it would take effect. However, MLB.com reported that this will happen for the next season. The franchise ranks second in the American League Central.
The NFL’s Washington Football team dropped its previous name last year, criticized as degrading to Native Americans, as corporate backlash intensified. The franchise temporarily took over the Washington Football Team and played under that name last season. It will continue to be known as the Washington Football Team for the 2021 campaign.
The Washington Post reported earlier this month that a new name and logo will be announced for the NFL team in early 2022.
At a press conference on Friday, Cleveland team owner Paul Dolan said the organization hopes the Guardians will “turn us off a path that divides us” and eventually be accepted by the entire fan base and region.
“We understand that the name change will be difficult for some of us and the transition will take time,” said Dolan, who found that he grew up in northeast Ohio and always rooted for the team by his old nickname was. “Those memories won’t get any less with a new name,” he added.
In December, the Cleveland baseball team announced they would change their name after the 2021 season, which some consider long overdue. Protests by Indian activists in front of the team’s stadium had been the order of the day for years, especially on the opening day.
The franchise moved away from its long-running “Chief Wahoo” logo after the 2018 season, with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred saying it was “no longer suitable for use on the field in Major League Baseball” at the time.
In a post on Friday, the team stated the Guardians name: “To protect, keep watch, defend. For the Clevelanders, this is a way of life. We fight together for what we believe in. And when we get down, we are. We are us.” Resilient, hardworking and loyal – to this city and to each other. That is what it means to be the Cleveland Guardians. “
The organization said it surveyed more than 40,000 fans for potential names and conducted more than 140 hours of interviews with supporters, front office members and community leaders in northeast Ohio. The team’s primary colors, navy blue and red, remain the same.
“Our fans are at the center of this decision. We have heard this name many times from our fans as a top contender because it is associated with the iconic Cleveland landmark,” the franchise statement said.
The bridge with the Guardians of Traffic is near Progressive Field, where the team plays, and pictures of the statues have been printed on T-shirts. A popular local brewery, Market Garden, even adopted them as part of their logo.
The Cleveland franchise has been around since 1901 when it was called the Blues. It became the Broncos the following season, then was known as the Cleveland Naps from 1903 to 1914, after player manager Nap Lajoie. It was changed to its current name after Lajoie was traded.