It’s not every year that Major League Baseball voluntarily becomes less problematic. In fact, it feels like that happens about as often as Cleveland wins a World Series.
And it should be celebrated just as enthusiastically.
With Sunday’s news that the Cleveland Baseball Team would be dropping its long-held Indians nickname, the sport took another step toward entering the 21st century, only 20 years after the calendar did. I’ve been a baseball fan long enough to know that this is progress.
For years, one of the images most closely associated with the Cleveland team has been that of fans doing war whoops at Native American protesters and wearing redface to World Series games. It’s been a monumental embarrassment to the league and, one would hope, to the city as well.
Then in 2019, the team finally dropped the Sambo-esque Chief Wahoo logo from their uniforms, although they still continued to sell merchandise featuring the racist caricature in the official team store. It turned out that in retrospect, Cleveland management made more of an effort to keep Chief Wahoo than Francisco Lindor.
Now, finally, that’s coming to an end. From The New York Times report by David Waldstein and Michael S. Schmidt, team sources indicated that Cleveland will be shifting to a new nickname in 2022 and is unsure whether they’ll retain the Indians moniker for one more year or do a generic “Washington Football Team”-style placeholder. Either way, soon the offensive name will be no more.
This afternoon, Cleveland made the name change official on their Twitter handle that will happily soon be available to any internet rando:
Here’s where this news could be relevant to baseball’s LGBTQ community. At Outsports, one of our site’s main objectives is to demonstrate the many instances of the sports world’s acceptance of LGBTQ athletes, management, and fans.
Yet despite the fact that out athletes have thrived in leagues like the WNBA and at the college level in many sports, MLB has yet to see a player come out while their career is still active. And at least part of that has to be due to fear of how they’ll be perceived in a conservative sport that places value on conformity.
So each step that the league takes to demonstrate that it is committed to bringing the game closer to a modern and open-minded mentality sends a positive message everyone who might have felt shut out by baseball in years past.
In agreeing to change their name, Cleveland is finally telling Indigenous communities: “We hear you. And while it’s taken way too long, we’re going to make the changes needed to make you feel like you belong in this game.” But while that message is expressly directed at Native Americans, it’s heard by everyone.
Each step a baseball team takes toward being more welcoming sends a message to all marginalized communities that inclusion is becoming an even bigger priority. Furthermore, when the rest of baseball sees that these steps in the right direction are successful and (let’s be honest about owners’ priorities) profitable, other teams will follow along and that wave of acceptance will create its own kind of momentum.
As Cleveland owner Paul Dolan revealed in the official statement, not only did the team listen to testimony from Native Americans, they “also spoke to local civic leaders who represent diverse populations in our city and who highlighted the negative impact our team name has had on our broader population and on under-represented groups across our community.”
In other words, it’s hard to feel completely accepted as a member of any non-majority group when the team name celebrates the exploitation of one especially marginalized community. There are dozens of great reasons to drop the Indians nickname and that’s one of the most important ones.
This move is a big contribution toward the momentum for inclusion. If that momentum combines with what has already been established by Pride events and the work of executives like Billy Bean, it’s going to eventually lead to the kind of environment where an active LGBTQ player will feel comfortable and confident enough to be public about who they are.
For now, it’s time to celebrate the justified end of this relic from the game’s bad old days and brainstorm ideas for its replacement (Go Cleveland Spiders!). Cleveland baseball fans have been waiting decades for another World Series title so they can party like it’s 1948. Thankfully, their team will finally no longer pretend like we’re all still living in that year.