The rebranding is not a surprise: in July the team announced it would reexamine the use of a racially inappropriate name and branding during a time of social justice. The use of the Indians name has been a controversial one for several years now, and when the team announced a reexamination, the assumption in baseball was that new branding would be the inevitable result.
This certainly has been the year of social justice in professional sports, including baseball. Earlier this summer the Minnesota Twins took down a statue of former team owner Calvin Griffith at Target Field due to his racist legacy, while the University of Cincinnati removed Marge Schott’s name from the school’s ballpark for the same reason. (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.
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.
It’s been the Cleveland Indians since 1915. Before that the team had been known by a variety of names since launching as an original American League team in 1901: Blues, Broncos, Naps, and our favorite: the Molly McGuires. The Indians name came as a result of a decision by local sportswriters recruited by the team owner: the rationale given at the time in the Cleveland Plain Dealer was that the team name was to honor former Cleveland Spiders player Louis Sockalexis, regarded as the first American Indian to play professional baseball.