We’ve already seen some MLB teams take action in this new era of social justice: Last month the Minnesota Twins took down a statue of former team owner Calvin Griffith at Target Field, while the University of Cincinnati removed Marge Schott’s name from the school’s ballpark. (Our story here.) Prior efforts included the renaming of Yawkey Way back to its original name, Jersey Street, after the Boston Red Sox petitioned to change it as a way to distance the team from former owner Tom Yawkey’s racist past.
Most recently: After pressure from sponsors, D.C. officials, minority team investors and naming-rights partner FedEx, the Washington Redskins name and branding will be reviewed by team ownership and NFL management, with changes expected.
In the wake of the NFL’s actions, the Cleveland Indians announced that the team would also review the ramifications of the Indians name and branding:
The Indians had previously struggled with a problematic part of its team branding: Chief Wahoo. It took until 2018 for the team to downplay Chief Wahoo on team uniforms, branding and marketing. However, the idea of dropping the logo completely had previously been met with some reluctance from Indians chairman and chief executive Paul Dolan, even as Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred increased pressure on the team to get rid of Chief Wahoo. But while the Dolans still own the Cleveland team, these are different times and a pro sports team must operate in different circumstances than just a few years ago. The assumption is that the Redskins name will go away–perhaps even for the 2020 season–and it looks like team president Chris Antonetti may be committed to a name and branding change:
“We have a complicated history with race in our organization,” he said. “It’s part of our dialogue. It’s something we need to own and think about it. We can’t necessarily go back and unwind what has happened. Nor should we because we’ve also been at the forefront of some very good things in race issues, but there have been others where we’ve lagged behind.
“Our focus is what can we do from this point forward.”
There are some good stories to tell: the Indians were the first American League to play a Black player, Larry Doby, and to hire the first Black manager, Frank Robinson. One thing to remember: When a team says it will reexamine a thing like a team name, you can usually count on a name change–there’s no way you can rebrand your way out of an Indians team name.