This article originally appeared in Top Level Sports.
Fans should not be surprised that the Cleveland Indians are undergoing a name change — the writing’s been on the wall for years. For several seasons now, Indigenous people and allies have protested the team each Opening Day demanding change. The Indians front office have signaled that they have been listening and took the first step a couple years ago retiring their undeniably racist “Chief Wahoo” logo in 2018.
It should also be noted that the franchise has historically been at the forefront in the fight for equality and inclusion in baseball. In 1947, the team introduced Larry Doby as the second African-American player to break baseball’s color barrier, and the first to play for an MLB American League team (whereas Jackie Robinson’s Dodgers played in the National League). In 1975, Cleveland announced Hall of Famer Frank Robinson as the first African-American manager in MLB history. So for longtime fans of the team, this is just another significant step in the right direction in the franchise’s history.
To further signify the need to move towards cultural inclusion, just take a look at who is actually playing the game these days.
With the possible exception of professional soccer, the MLB boasts one of the most globally diverse locker rooms in sports. Rosters include players from Japan, Korea, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and nearly every Latin American country — and all this before we even touch on the varied backgrounds and demographics of American-born players. During 2020’s World Series, translators were just as likely to give post-game interviews than the players themselves.
On a personal level, speaking as a Cuban American, baseball and the culture surrounding the game was something I was born into. Like many of mi gente, I was given a baseball glove before I could walk, and I cherish my memories growing up practicing and playing the game. And though we Latnix jugadorestend to play the game with a bit more sabor than our American counterparts, for my family — my cousins, my uncles and my grandparents — it was a piece of American culture that welcomed us with familiarity and a shared language.
That’s why baseball is much bigger than a game — it’s a doorway into a more inclusive and diverse American society, and obviously names and mascots play a critical role in that regard.
So, where do the Cleveland soon-to-be-renamed Indians go now? Fortunately, from a branding perspective, they have a wealth of options to choose from.
They could opt to reclaim and revitalize a long-forgotten piece of their history by rebranding themselves as the Cleveland Naps (active between the years 1903–1915), the Blues (1882–1884), or they could go all the way back to the start with their first name, the Forest Citys (1869–1872).
Cleveland could also follow suit with the league and continue to pay homage to the historic Negro Leagues, choosing from a list of former local teams that includes the Elites, Hornets, Stars or Buckeyes (which would likely prove popular among many Ohio State University alumni).
Of course, the team could (and perhaps, should) take this opportunity to start fresh with an entirely new identity. After all, Cleveland has certainly gone through dramatic changes since they became the Indians back in 1915, so embracing a name and identity that represents its citizens and institutions should absolutely be on the table.
It’s been a long time coming, but progress and progressivism are finally beginning to be normalized in professional sports. Teams, players and brands should see this as something to be celebrated; An occasion to welcome new fans and embrace a city’s culture. In that way, a name can transcend the sport, giving everyone — players to fans, kids to adults — a chance to be part of the game.
Casey Seijas is Director, Brand Communication at Siegel+Gale