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Name’s not the same, and that’s okay

On July 23, the Major League Baseball franchise in Cleveland unveiled their new name for the team: the Guardians.

It was a change that had been in the works for a while. The baseball team had played as the “Indians” since 1915, but more and more people have begun to recognize that using Native Americans as a team mascot is offensive and demeaning to an entire ethnic group. The team had already dropped the use of their “Chief Wahoo” logo a couple of years ago.

Plenty of other sports teams—from the high school level all the way to the professional leagues—have changed their names and logos over the past few decades to be more respectful. The Washington Football Team (a temporary name for now), which finally dropped its “Redskins” moniker last year, might be one of the most famous examples. But here’s a local example as well: Chowan University switched from the “Braves” to the “Hawks” in 2006.

Management of the baseball team in Cleveland reportedly considered over 1,400 different ideas before narrowing it down to ones like the Rockers or the Spiders. Both of those were rejected for various reasons, including a potential trademark issue with the Richmond Spiders (a college team in Virginia). Cleveland’s management finally settled on the Guardians, partially inspired by the name of two statues flanking one of the city’s bridges, called the “Guardians of Traffic.”

Personally, I think it’s an okay name, but I’m not an invested fan in the team to really care all that much what new name they pick. I have, however, seen plenty of perplexing backlash to recent name changes whenever someone decides to retire a mascot name referencing Native Americans.

And, frankly, I just don’t get it.

I’ve tried considering the matter from different perspectives.

If my favorite team, the NC State Wolfpack, suddenly decided to switch from wolves to a different mascot entirely, I would probably just shrug and continue cheering for them like usual. Yeah, I might be a little annoyed with having to buy a new t-shirt or having to learn some new cheers. But ultimately, the team is still there no matter what the name is.

I considered that maybe some people get angry because these names have been around a long time. Even Cleveland’s team owner, Paul Dolan, acknowledged that the team has had the Indians name as far back as he can remember.

“But we’re not asking anybody to give up their memories or the history of the franchise that will always be there,” Dolan said at a press conference last week.

That makes sense to me. You can still remember all your good memories with your favorite team, even if they rebrand later to a different name. Aren’t those memories centered more on fun times cheering on players alongside your family or friends than they are on what mascot name you’re yelling from the stands?

I can understand that change can sometimes be difficult for things that have been around a long time. But on the other hand, it’s not a new thing for teams to change their names for a variety of reasons. Here are some examples:

Dickinson State University in North Dakota dropped their “Savages” mascot name in 1972 after student protests. They later became the Blue Hawks.

In 1997, the Washington Bullets, the professional basketball team in our nation’s capital, let fans vote on a new name. They eventually selected the Wizards. (Picking a magical name, unfortunately, cannot get them to do better in the Playoffs though.)

The Tennessee Titans were originally named the Oilers when they first moved to the state from Texas. But Tennessee isn’t really a place known for oil drilling, so the name was changed in 1999.

Before Houston’s baseball team was known as the Astros, they were called the Colt .45s. The name was later dropped, partially because the Colt Firearms Company didn’t like them using their name, and partially because “Astros” made more sense with Houston also being associated with NASA. They made the change in 1965.

The Pittsburgh Pirates in their earliest years (1882-1890) were actually called the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, named after the river flowing through the city. The Pirate name came from accusations that the team “pirated” away a player from another team, and the mascot name has stuck ever since.

Even my own alma mater, Elon University, used to play sports under a different moniker. For several decades they were the “Fighting Christians” with the name probably originating due to the school being associated with the United Church of Christ. But in 2000 while transitioning to Division 1 sports, a decision was made to switch to the Phoenix, a name that was also quite fitting considering that the school once “rose from the ashes” of a devastating fire in 1923.

These are just a few of many, many examples of sports teams changing their names over the years. And honestly, name changes aren’t even limited to sports. Businesses change their names too for mergers, rebranding, and plenty of other reasons.

And while there might be some grumbling getting use to the change, there’s not really any outrage.

At least, not any on par with Washington’s and Cleveland’s decisions to drop their offensive mascot names.

So what’s the fuss all about? These aren’t arbitrary changes, but necessary ones meant to respect real groups of people. Sure, the name change doesn’t automatically end racism in our society, but it’s a good first step at least. How can we get angry about treating people with courtesy and respect?

Ultimately, the teams still exist no matter what name they go by. The players still don their uniforms no matter what name is emblazoned on the front. You will still be able to watch the games (on your TV or in person) no matter what name you yell when you cheer. So perhaps we should just take these changes in stride, and let the anger go.

Perhaps try following that old advice: “build a bridge and get over it.”

And if you’re not sure how to build a bridge, I suggest checking out a particular one in Cleveland featuring two guardian statues.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or at 252-332-7206.