Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team will change its name to Guardians, the franchise announced Friday, dropping the racially offensive name it has been known for for more than a century.
The change was announced in a video on Twitter narrated by Oscar winner Tom Hanks, who worked in Cleveland early in his acting career and starred in the women’s baseball film “A League of Their Own.”
The Guardians name is a reference to well-known Art Deco statues on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, which spans the Cuyahoga River and connects downtown Cleveland to the trendy Ohio City neighborhood. Those statues are known as the ‘Guardians of the traffic’.
The franchise, which announced the name change in a tweet Friday morning, had long faced local and national pressure from activists to scrap the “Indians” name, which critics say was racist. It was the name of the baseball club since 1915.
The announcement did not say when it will take effect. However, MLB.com reported that this will happen before next season. The franchise is ranked second in the American League Central.
The NFL’s Washington Football Team dropped its old name last year, which was labeled demeaning to Native Americans as corporate opposition mounted. The franchise temporarily took over the Washington Football Team and played under that name last season. It will remain known as the Washington Football Team for the 2021 campaign.
The Washington Post reported earlier this month that a new name and logo for the NFL team will be announced in early 2022.
Speaking at a news conference Friday, Cleveland team owner Paul Dolan said the organization hopes Guardians “will divert us from a divisive path” and eventually be embraced by the entire fanbase and region.
“We recognize that the name change will be difficult for some of us, and the transition will take time,” said Dolan, who noted that he grew up in northeastern Ohio and had always rooted for the team under his old name. “Those memories don’t diminish with a new name,” he added.
In December, the Cleveland baseball team said it would change its name after the 2021 season, a move seen by some as a long time ago. Protests by Native American activists outside the team’s stadium had been common for years, especially on opening day.
The franchise moved away from the old “Chief Wahoo” logo after the 2018 season, with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred saying at the time it was “no longer suitable for on-field use in Major League Baseball.”
In a post on Friday, the team called Guardians stated: “To protect, to stand guard, to defend. For Clevelanders, this is a way of life. We fight together for what we believe in. And if we get knocked down “We will pick each other up again and keep fighting. We are resilient, hardworking and loyal – to this city and to each other. That’s what it means to be Cleveland Guardians.”
The organization said it polled more than 40,000 fans about possible names and conducted more than 140 hours of interviews with supporters, front office members and community leaders in northeast Ohio. The team’s primary colors navy blue and red remain the same.
“Our fans are at the center of this decision. We often heard this name from our fans as one of the top contenders because of its connection to the iconic Cleveland landmark,” the franchise statement reads.
The “Guardians of Traffic” bridge is near Progressive Field, where the team plays, and images of the statues are printed on T-shirts. A popular local brewery, Market Garden, has even adopted them as part of its logo.
The Cleveland franchise has been around since 1901, when it was called the Blues. The following season it was renamed Broncos, then it was known as the Cleveland Naps from 1903 to 1914 in reference to player-manager Nap Lajoie. It was changed to its current name after Lajoie was traded.