Cleveland Indians Will Review Name After Redskins Controversy

As the Native mascot issue heats up, Washington Redskins minority owners look to sell their stakes

Person wearing Cleveland Indians shirt
Several major league teams and hundreds of school teams around the country use names and mascots that are offensive to Native Americans. Getty Images
Headshot of Mary Emily O

The Cleveland Indians announced via Twitter late Friday that the team would consider a name change.

“We are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name,” according to a statement from the team.

The decision to review the name “Indians” came after a week of pressure on the NFL’s Washington Redskins, through an investor letter first reported by Adweek that forced responses from sponsors FedEx, Nike, PepsiCo and finally, the Redskins franchise itself. Before breaking news of the investors pressuring brands, Adweek also reached out to 10 apparel brands that manufacture and license the team’s merchandise.

Adweek first reported on the Native American-led movement to change the Washington team’s name on June 3, when members of the community reacted to several teams with Native mascots issuing statements condemning racism in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

After the Washington football team agreed to consider changing its name, Native American advocacy groups immediately turned the focus onto other major league teams that use Native mascots, nicknames and logos. The Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks, Atlanta Braves, and even college- and high school-level teams are under new scrutiny.

Protests and lawsuits against the use of Native mascots have been going on for years. In 2014, the group Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry held a protest at Nike’s Oregon headquarters in an effort to convince the brand to stop making apparel with the Cleveland team’s Chief Wahoo mascot. As a result of ongoing pressure, the cartoon mascot was retired in 2018, but the team kept the name Indians.

Jacqueline Keeler, a Native American advocate and editor of Pollen Nation magazine, led that 2014 protest along with launching the #NotYourMascot social media campaign tied to that year’s Super Bowl. She told Adweek that it was “amazing” to see teams finally taking the racist mascots and names seriously after so many years.

Keeler credited the rapid-fire changes to the recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement that forced brands to take accountability for racist advertising and logos, such as PepsiCo’s decision to close the Aunt Jemima brand.

Native issues never make any progress without an assist from Black leaders,” Keeler said.

But the racial justice uprising wasn’t the only thing that finally forced the issue for Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who said on Friday that he would “take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off of the field.”

However, it’s still unclear what the path forward will be for the Washington team. Today, The Washington Post reported that the team’s minority stake owners—who own a combined 40% of the franchise—are looking to sell. The three minority stake owners reportedly told the Post they are “not happy being a partner” with Snyder.

Ultimately, what pressured Snyder to take years of protests seriously is very likely the letter sent to his team’s sponsors by shareholders worth a combined $620 billion. Those investor letters were the brainchild, in part, of the Native American advocacy group First Peoples Worldwide.

Carla Fredericks, director of First Peoples Worldwide as well as the American Indian Law Clinic at the University of Colorado, told Adweek she was “encouraged” by the moves made by the Washington and Cleveland teams, but wanted to see more join in.

“Of course the Washington team is a dictionary-defined racial slur,” Fredericks said. “But we’ve seen over and over again that even with these so-called honorific team names and mascots, the impact on Native American people is negative—especially because of fan behaviors.”

@MaryEmilyOHara Mary Emily O'Hara is a diversity and inclusion reporter. They specialize in covering LGBTQ+ issues and other underrepresented communities.