As of last night, the word went out that the Cleveland Baseball team will change their name and logo going forward. In 2020 this has been something of a hot button issue finally. with the Washington football team doing the same earlier this year. Once their top sponsors and merchandise distributors said they would cut ties if no actions were taken. I want to use this moment to take a deep dive into the history of both franchises. In my opinion, what should have been an incentive to change the names years ago is a silver lining for the front offices and owners who have gas lit the public into believing that their franchises have little to no ties to racism or bigotry at all.
Washington Football Team
Not much to say here, around 1937 the team changed its name to the Redskins, but it was not until 1961 that the owner reluctantly integrated his team with players of colour. Including Native Americans. So how can you expect us to believe that the name change was done out of admiration vs contempt. Also, it was not until Walmart said they would stop selling their merch and Fedex said they would strip their branding and support. Among many other scandals with the Football team’s front office that they conceded to a name change in June of 2020.
Since the change the ownership has since said they will not update their name from the Washington football team due to popularity. It is almost a sick joke to the people that fought so hard for this name change to happen but were told that there was nothing wrong with it or that it would be too hard to rebrand the franchise and all of its holdings.
In 1914 then owner Charles Somers put forward the idea to change the teams name from the Cleveland Naps. Following the departure of their First super star Napoleon Lajoie. After much discussion they locked in on the team name “Indians” in what they would call homage to the Cleveland Spiders who played in the city from 1898 -1899 and were given that nickname by fans due to having Native American player Louis Sockalexis,, who some say may have been the first Native American player to play in major league baseball. Although there are many conflicting reports. In the present day they will try to sell you on this idea but news publications from that day make no references to Sockalexis for the name change but rather say many derogatory statements about him and others of the same bloodline.
Fast forward to 1948 just months after Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier. Cleveland became the second team to integrate a black player on their team, Larry Doby. Also, they became the first team to add a second in Negro League super star Satchel Paige. Making him the oldest rookie in MLB history at 46. At the time many thought this may have been done in a public stunt as Cleveland was able to draw around 70-78k fans at home following these changes. Not to mention that the team went on to Win the World Series that year. Becoming the first team to win with a black player on its roster, The last such in the team’s history. Almost 10 years before Jackie Robinson was able to win with the Dodgers.
In 2014 ,Major league baseball Commissioner Bud Selig says he has never heard of any negative complaints about the logo , almost ignoring the court case that happened Right before he took the position in 1998. That had a group of Native American Protesters protest the name and logo of the team during the 1997 world series. Team Officials even went as far to say that their protest had nothing to do with the issues of the logo & team name and complained that they damaged a tree in the area the protest took place and had them arrested.
Regardless of all that is mentioned above, people that grew up sports fans of these teams are committed to these teams beyond their racist past because they love the sport and or the players that the team employees. The market to make a ton of money off these re brands have always been there. In moments that will follow this announcement, do not allow racist baseball historians to dilute this moment in history by saying we are removing black history from baseball with this name change. Because that is simply not true.
Many people have fought for this change and I am glad it is finally happening.