The Cleveland Indians plan to drop the nickname they have used for more than a century, becoming the latest professional sports franchise to shed its Native American imagery amid accusations that its use is racist, two sources familiar with the decision confirmed to ESPN.
The organization is expected to announce the change this week, sources said, continuing a years-long process in which it abandoned its Chief Wahoo logo and committed to exploring a new nickname, as well.
The New York Times first reported the decision.
Cleveland has not settled on a new nickname, and it’s unclear whether the team will be dropping the nickname immediately or will transition to a new moniker following the 2021 season.
Following the decision of the NFL’s Washington franchise to drop its nickname and ultimately rebrand as the Washington Football Team, Cleveland announced it planned to undertake a thorough review of the Indians name, which it adopted in 1915. Previously, the team had been called the Cleveland Naps, after Nap Lajoie, their star player and manager.
The Indians have played upward of 17,000 games with the nickname and won two World Series — the last coming in 1948. Their 72-year championship drought is the longest in baseball.
Protests outside Cleveland’s Progressive Field have been relatively commonplace, as have local fans with affinity for the nickname countering the objection. The organization’s decision to replace Chief Wahoo hats with those featuring a block C was seen as a positive first step, but the outcry against the name continued and forced owner Paul Dolan to consider abandoning the name altogether.
Dolan vowed to meet with Native American groups and gauge their thoughts. There was pressure from Major League Baseball, too, which saw the Indians name as a long-term nonstarter, sources said.
“This is the culmination of decades of work,” the Oneida Nation of New York, which led the Change the Mascot Movement, said in a statement to ESPN. “Groups like the National Congress of American Indians passed resolutions for decades on this, social science has made clear these names are harmful and Cleveland got out in front of it and they’re leading, and rather than having this hanging over their heads, they’re charting a new path.”
The Atlanta Braves of MLB, Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL and Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL are the other prominent professional franchises that use Native American imagery in their names and logos.
Whatever the Cleveland franchise chooses as its new name — among those proposed in recent years: the Naps, the Cleveland Spiders (after a defunct, 19th-century baseball team) or the Cleveland Rocks — it is likely to require new uniforms and signage around the stadium, which could delay its implementation, one source said.