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After Decades of Protests, American Sports Teams Change “Indian” Names

The Cleveland Indians baseball team is one of a handful of professional sports teams in the United States that based its name and mascot on Native American names and imagery. Although some indigenous people in the U.S. do not object to being called “Indians,” others consider the term a racial slur. In general, most indigenous people identify by their specific tribal names and prefer not to be grouped under one name. The other troubling aspects of naming sports teams after Native Americans is that the players themselves hardly identify as Native Americans, the mascots are often cartoonish and offensive portrayals of native people, and no consent was asked of native peoples before the branding of the teams occurred.

The debate against this practice has been going on basically since it began; the Cleveland baseball franchise has been called the “Indians” since 1915. In defense, team managers claimed to be “honoring” native peoples with the use of their names and images, but Native Americans have always perceived the names and mascots as a mockery of their culture. Cleveland’s recently retired mascot was a character called Chief Wahoo, a caricature of Native Americans that was seen as particularly offensive. Native American groups have appeared throughout many years protesting at the team’s first home game of the season.

Cleveland’s decision followed the name-change in July 2020 of a National Football League (N.F.L.) team based in Washington, D.C, formerly called the Washington Redskins. The term “redskins” has long been a racial slur for Native Americans, largely more offensive than “Indians.” This change was pressured by the team’s financial sponsors such as FedEx, Pepsi, and Nike, as the racial justice movement Black Lives Matter last summer held many American companies accountable for their racist branding. Even the maple syrup and pancake mix brand “Aunt Jemima” agreed in July to retire its name and image based on the stereotype of an African American woman. While the removal of racist branding of the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins is a step in the right direction, many teams have yet to follow their lead: the world is watching the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Key Terms

  1. “Indians”

  2. Racial slur

  3. Consent

  4. Mockery

  5. Caricature

Key Questions

  1. What is your opinion on a sports team being named after a culture or group of people?

  2. Do you think changing a name or brand can change the way people think?

  3. Why do you think Native Americans protested for the Cleveland team to change their name?

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