Raised as a Cleveland sports fan, I understand the nostalgia and attempts to justify the “Indians” branding as a symbol of respect for Native Americans. I failed to see “Chief Wahoo” as a racist caricature until I was older and comparisons were made to other racialized team names and mascots. But now, when we see alleged fans paint themselves red and threaten to quit watching baseball if the name changes, do we really think they’re motivated by respect for the original inhabitants of the Cuyahoga Valley?
Instead of rage-tweeting support for names and mascots that studies show are “psychologically detrimental to Native American students,” there are more sincere ways to honor and support indigenous peoples that involve listening to and responding to their needs. Native American organizations in Northeast Ohio unanimously support changing the name, so we should too.
Fortunately, our local history offers good alternatives as the team reviews a potential name change, but my favorite so far is the “Cleveland Guardians” for five reasons:
1) History: The “Guardians” have been an iconic landmark since 1932, with eight giant statues flanking the Hope Memorial Bridge — the gateway to downtown Cleveland directly by Progressive Field.
2) Nostalgia: Of the proposals so far, “Guardians” is the least radical shift from “Indians” — it only requires changing one syllable and evokes bravery without being tied to race. Plus “Guardians” could use similar fonts and colors to maintain some of the brand’s nostalgia.
3) Creativity: The “Guardians” were built without representing a particular ethnicity, but their armor and winged helmets evoke a mashup of ancient and modern mythologies that could inspire creative logos and costumes without mocking a certain race. As you can see from the linked tweets, fans have plenty of ideas.
5) Strength: “Guardians” is the fiercest of the proposed alternatives. “Spiders” are creepy, small, and easy to squoosh. “Buckeyes” would be a meaningful throwback to the “Negro League,” but that nut was already cracked by Ohio State. After the “Indians” became cursed with the longest World Series title drought, we need to pick a unique name worthy of our fighting spirit.
There are other good reasons for choosing “The Guardians,” but whatever name wins, it’s time to redefine our “tribe” based on love for our neighbors, not based on stereotypes. Symbols naturally change or get “cancelled” as society progresses, but what matters is that our pride and our patriotism are focused on building an inclusive community rather than further excluding a historically marginalized group. As Guardians, our new “tribe” could “defend the land” together.
Those are just my thoughts though. What do you think the new name should be?
Kyle Herman served as an analyst and writer in the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence from 2015 to 2017. He is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.