CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Indians are changing their name — they just don’t know to what or when.
Expressing that “it’s time,” owner Paul Dolan said that after months of internal discussions and meetings with groups, including Native Americans who have sought to have the team stop using a moniker many deem racist, the American League franchise is dropping the name it has been known by since 1915.
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Dolan said: “The name is no longer acceptable in our world.”
Dolan issued this full statement:
Hearing firsthand the stories and experiences of Native American people, we gained a deep understanding of how tribal communities feel about the team name and the detrimental effects it has on them. We also spoke to local civic leaders who represent diverse populations in our city and who highlighted the negative impact our team name has had on our broader population and on under-represented groups across our community. I am truly grateful for their engagement and input, which I found enlightening and insightful. When a sports team is aligned with its community, it unlocks the ability to unite people from different backgrounds and bring people together in support of their home team. While Indians will always be a part of our history, it is time to move forward and work to unify our stakeholders and fans through a new name.
Dolan said the team will continue to be called Indians until a new name is chosen.
That “multi-stage” process is in its early stages and the team will play — and be branded — as the Indians at least through next season.
“We’ll be the Indians in 2021 and then after that, it’s a difficult and complex process to identify a new name and do all the things you do around activating that name,” Dolan said. “We are going to work at as quick a pace as we can while doing it right.
“But we’re not going to do something just for the sake of doing it. We’re going to take the time we need to do it right.”
Dolan said the team will not adopt an interim name until choosing its new one.
“We don’t want to be the Cleveland Baseball Team or some other interim name,” he said. “We will continue to be the Indians until we have identified the next name that will hopefully take us through multiple centuries.”
Cleveland’s move away from Indians follows a similar decision earlier this year by the NFL’s Washington Football Team, which was previously known as the Redskins.
“It was a learning process for me and I think when fair-minded, open-minded people really look at it, think about it and maybe even spend some time studying it, I like to think they would come to the same conclusion: It’s a name that had its time, but this is not the time now, and certainly going forward, the name is no longer acceptable in our world,” Dolan said.
As Cleveland considers options for names, Dolan said Tribe, which has been a popular nickname for the club for decades, has been ruled out.
“We are not going to take a half-step away from the Indians,” he said. “The new name, and I do not know what it is, will not be a name that has Native American themes or connotations to it. Frankly, that (Tribe) would have been a name that I would have loved to pivot to.
“But in talking to these groups, they made it very clear that the issues that are attached to the Indians don’t go away with Tribe, particularly since Tribe has been tied to the experience of our team for many many decades,” he said.
The name change by the Indians is the latest by an organization reacting to a national movement, which gained momentum in the wake of widespread civil rights protests last summer, to have prejudicial names and symbols removed.
Across the south, Civil War monuments were taken down, and in some cases names were taken off buildings.
Dolan said his “awakening or epiphany” came following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while being arrested by white Minneapolis police officers this summer.
He empathizes with a segment of Cleveland fans who will be displeased with decision.
“I fully understand it,” he said of expected backlash. “I consider myself a fifth-generation Clevelander. It’s in our blood and baseball and the Indians are synonymous, and that goes to the whole intent versus impact thing. Nobody intended anything negative by our attachment to the name Indians, but the impact has been tough.”
Washington dropped the name Redskins in July after bowing to pressure from corporate sponsors.
It was only hours later that Dolan announced a thorough review of the team’s name. He promised to listen and learn, and that’s what transpired in recent months during discussions with fans, business leaders, players, social activists and researchers focused on Native American culture and issues.
Dolan called those conversations “both enlightening and challenging.”
He added there’s a delicate balance between moving ahead and looking back.
“We are going to honor our past,” he said. “We’re not walking away from our past. We’ll be the Cleveland Indians of 1915 to whatever year is that we ultimately change. We will always celebrate that. I don’t think we have to ignore it.
“But from the day we make the change, the new history that we build together as a community with our team will be under the banner of a different name.”
Cleveland’s name change comes on the heels of the team removing the controversial Chief Wahoo logo from its caps and jerseys in 2019.
The team has never stopped selling merchandise bearing the grinning, cartoonish figure, but Dolan said any profits from future sales of Wahoo items will go to Native American organizations or causes supporting Native Americans.
Dolan’s family bought the Indians in 2000, and even then he knew Chief Wahoo “was problematic.” It was only after this summer’s unrest and in educating himself on Native American issues that he recognized Indians in the same light.
“There is definitely some pain in this. It’s the end of an era or the beginning of an era. But accompanying that is the recognition and maybe even excitement that we’re going on to do something that is better. It will be better for the community. It will be better for our team. And it will be something hopefully that unites everybody. It’s not anything that we have to feel any kind of reluctance about expressing,” he said..
“It’s going to take some time for everybody to embrace but I think when they do, we’ll all be better off for it.”
Dolan also released the following letter to fans on Monday:
To Our Fans,
This afternoon, we officially announced our organization has decided to begin the process of changing the name Indians and move forward to determine a new name that will better unify our community and build on our legacy for a new generation.
As a fifth-generation Clevelander, I understand the historic impact and importance of this decision. Like many of you, I grew up with this name and have many great memories of past Indians teams: the World Series appearances, Cy Young winners, the longest win streak in MLB history, and countless other unforgettable moments that brought our team, fans, and community together. These memories will forever stay in our hearts, minds, and record books, and we will continue to recognize our ball club’s remarkable legacy. While I have often associated these unforgettable memories with the name Indians, I sincerely believe Cleveland is the most important part of our team name.
Today’s decision is the result of a process that began in June, following our public commitment to take a leadership role in helping address many of the social challenges affecting our community and to support the underserved and under-represented groups in Greater Cleveland. After we made this commitment, I, and many others across the organization, spent time reflecting on the role our franchise plays in the community at large and our responsibilities as community leaders inside our organization. As a result, in July, the organization announced we would begin a process of listening, learning, and then acting on the best path forward relative to our team name.
Over the course of the past several months, we conducted meaningful conversations with a variety of stakeholders, including Native American groups, fans, civic leaders, leading researchers focused on Native American culture and issues, internal teammates, players, and corporate partners. These conversations were both enlightening and, at times, challenging. We often found that individuals, even those within the same organization or demographic, maintained differing views and opinions of our team name. We valued hearing all perspectives, and we took them into consideration as we moved through the process.
Ultimately, we found our organization is at its best when we can unify our community and bring people together around our shared interest in our home team – and we believe a new name will allow us to do this more fully. We often celebrate being the first team in the American League to have an African American player in Larry Doby and the first African American manager in Frank Robinson. These forward-thinking acts by our predecessors have helped shaped our team and community, and today’s decision helps us continue to live up to these high standards and expectations.
Our decision to change the current name is phase one of a multi-phased process. Future decisions, including the new name and brand development, are complex and will take time. We believe our new name will take us into the future and proudly represent this storied franchise for decades and generations to come. In light of the importance, we will not rush these decisions.
As we take the necessary time to determine a new name and brand, the team will continue using the Indians name and branding. We will also continue to listen, learn, and partner with local civic leaders, including those in the Native American community, to deepen our support of under-represented groups and make a meaningful, positive impact in our community.
My family loves baseball and loves Cleveland. We believe in the ability of our organization to make a positive impact within our city and to unite and inspire those around us to do the same. I look forward to seeing the ways we can continue to accomplish this on and off the field – in the upcoming season and for years to come.
Thank you for your continued support of our team, our players, and our shared Cleveland community.