Indians become Guardians

Racism is a tag that has hung around America for far too long. Let’s end it now.

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The Cleveland Indians’ new name is… The Guardians. The Indians announced the new name on Twitter on Friday morning. They have been called the Indians since 1915.  The Cleveland Indians removed the Chief Wahoo logo from their uniforms and stadium signs following the 2018 season. The team still retains retail rights to the logo. Chief Wahoo had been in use by the Indians since 1947.

How many teams have changed their names or mascots to avoid racism?  Here are examples: 

The Philadelphia Warriors moved to San Francisco and became the Golden State Warriors (eliminating the warrior mascot).  Following student protests, North Dakota’s Dickinson State University in 1972 dropped the Savages as the school’s mascot. Two years later, they officially became the Blue Hawks.  In 1974, Dartmouth College football team discontinued its old mascot the Indians — which dated back to the 1920s — and now go by the The Big Green.  Eastern Washington University changed its name from the Savages to the Eagles in 1973 after a vote by the student body ruled that the mascot for the prior 52 years was no longer acceptable.  In 1994, St. John’s University in New York City changed its team name from the Redmen to The Red Storm, sporting a new horse logo replacing the cartoon logo of a Native American.  Before becoming the Redhawks in 1997, Miami University of Ohio were known as the Redskins. The change was advocated by Dr. Myrtis Powell, who consulted the Oklahoma-based Miami tribe.  Oklahoma City University changed its team name from the Chiefs to the Stars in 1999, having actually been nicknamed the Stars prior to 1944.  In 2000, Nebraska Wesleyan University changed its mascot to the Prairie Wolf after representing the school as the Plainsmen since 1933.  Having been originally known as the Maroons, Seattle University’s mascot became the Chieftains in 1938 to honor the college’s namesake, Chief Seattle, but became the Redhawks in 2000.  Located in Wichita Falls, Texas, the Midwestern State University Indians became the Mustangs in 2006 to “eliminate the potential for a hostile or abusive environment,” the school said.  In 2007, the University of Illinois dropped the Chief Illiniwek logo and mascot following two decades of complaints that the logo and the mascot’s ceremonial dance performed during halftime perpetuated stereotypes. The use of the mascot dated back to 1926. The team is still called the Illini.  Arkansas State University changed its mascot from the Indians to the Red Wolves in January 2008.  In July 2020, the Washington Redskins announced it would retire its name and logo after FedEx, which has a minority stake in the team and naming rights for its stadium, voiced opposition.

How about blacks or Negroes?   Many such names were associated with the Negro leagues (football, basketball, and baseball leagues), and some used African countries and tribes in the team names. For example, the Indianapolis Clowns franchise had previously been called the Miami Ethiopian Clowns (History of Indianapolis Clowns). Teams like the Ethiopian Clowns, the Zulu Cannibal Giants from Louisville, Kentucky, and the Borneo Cannibal Giants, were famed for their comedic style of play and vaudeville type routines (Black Ball). In some contests, the players “painted their faces, put rings in their noses, and played in straw dresses.”  One theory is that the popularity of the Harlem Globetrotters could be attributed to the popularity of the “pepperball and shadowball” performances of these teams.  

Some Negro league teams had “Black” or “Brown” in the title of the team, but few had actual mascots or logos depicting African Americans. The Birmingham Black Barons, Little Rock Black Travelers, Washington Black Senators, and New York Black Yankees are team names, which refer to people and contain the word black or brown, but none of these teams had a drawn person as a logo or mascot.  There were also teams with “Colored” in their names such as the Twin City Colored Giants, the St. Paul Colored Gophers, and the Iowa Colored Ghosts, but none of these teams had a logo with a person on it.  

But there are other names that got changed: The Wahpeton Wops (“Italians without papers”) got changed eventually.  On the other hand, The Orofino High School Maniacs retain their name, even though the school is near a 55-bed psychiatric hospital.

Here’s an interesting example.  It all started to prove a point. It ended with more than $125,000 in scholarship money. An intramural basketball team at the University of Northern Colorado in 2002 renamed its squad ‘The Fightin’ Whites’ (it was eventually changed to Fightin’ Whities) simply to make a statement.  When local activists failed to persuade a nearby high school to change its mascot and name ‘Fightin’ Reds,’ intramural basketball players at Northern Colorado decided to make a satirical protest of their own.

Solomon Little Owl, a team member who also directed the university’s Native American Student Services, said his teammates, made up of a variety of races, wanted to “do something that will let people see the other side of what it’s like to be a mascot,” according to seattlepi.com. They changed their nickname from Native Pride to The Fightin’ Whites (it was reported a typo at some point changed the name to Whities). The change resulted in some intense media coverage. The Greeley Tribute’s website crashed when the story collected more than 29,000 hits instead of its usual 200. Names like these should be changed.  Why? Because as a people we need to be conscious of names which are unkind to others.  Racism is a tag that has hung around America for far too long. Let’s end it now.

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