Philip Yenyo has been protesting outside baseball stadiums in Cleveland for 30 years, demanding that the local Major League Baseball team change a name many consider racist. But next spring, Yenyo will put up his signs and take his 11-year-old son inside the stadium for the first time.
âWe can finally go to a game,â said Yenyo, executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio. âI can’t wait to tell him. We have been waiting for this for a very long time. “
Yenyo will be able to attend as the Cleveland baseball team announced on Friday that it will change its name from Indians to Guardians, becoming the latest sports team to move away from team names and mascots referring to Indigenous peoples. .
For decades, Native American groups like Yenyo and others have called on sports teams to eliminate Native names, mascots and images, insisting that they are racist, degrading, and promote stereotypes. Momentum for widespread change has been building in recent years and accelerating last summer amid protests for social justice over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin.
In the wake of the large-scale social justice protests that followed Floyd’s death, the Washington football team rejected the name “Redskins”, in large part thanks to pressure from sponsors like FedEx, Nike and Pepsi. . Cleveland was considered the next most prominent Indigenous team name in American sports, and in December the team made the decision to move on after consulting with local and national Indigenous organizations.
One of the organizations the team turned to was the National Congress of American Indians. Aaron Payment, senior vice president of NCAI and also president of Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, praised Cleveland for making what he said was a difficult, but appropriate, decision.
âI’m sure there will be some setback,â said Dr Payment, âBut they’re on the right side of history and deserve credit for it. This new name forever closes the books on a derogatory name. .
Former President Donald J. Trump, who described himself as an “old” baseball fan, said the change was a disgrace on Friday.
“A small group of people, with absolutely crazy ideas and policies, are forcing these changes to destroy our culture and our heritage,” Trump said in a statement. âAt some point people won’t take it anymore!
The name of the Goalkeepers, which was introduced by the club with a new logo in a two minute video on the team’s Twitter account, has some resonance with Ohio residents who regularly cross the Cuyahoga River on the Hope Memorial Bridge, which is a short drive from the team’s home at Progressive Field . A group of massive Art Deco sculptures on the bay, known as the Guardians of Traffic, are said to be symbols of progress. The new logo of a flashing G with wings also has an Art Deco touch.
The club said it had embarked on a massive outreach program with some 40,000 fans to find the new nickname and had conducted more than 100 hours of interviews with community members and staff at the team. Another candidate was the Spiders, a nickname used by a former Cleveland team a long time ago.
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âI was hoping it would be spiders,â Yenyo said. âBut the Guardians are good too. I was listening to sports radio this morning and people were complaining and saying they didn’t know what that referred to. If you’re a Clevelander, you better know this stuff.
The Cleveland team have said they plan to formalize the change after the current season ends.
Meanwhile, Dr Payment said his organization and others continue to focus on other teams – like the Atlanta Braves of the MLB, the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL and the Chicago Blackhawks of the NFL. NHL – which use Indigenous names and images. All of these teams have said they have no plans to change their names.
But earlier this month, the Portland Winterhawks, a minor league hockey team, changed their logo from Native to Hawk, garnering praise from Suzan Shown Harjo, a Native American activist and one of the early supporters of change. .
“It’s been a good July,” she said of the two rebranding. “It shows, it’s never too late to do the right thing.”