Op-ed | With NFL’s Redskins, MLB’s Indians name changes seemingly imminent, some ideas

Redskins helmet
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

As major sports leagues in North America make their way back from the coronavirus pandemic, the national conversation took on another dimension in recent weeks as the name of the NFL’s Washington Redskins and Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians. 

Washington’s NFL franchise has been continuously pushed by Native American organizations to change its mascot for years, though it’s finally gaining traction after Nike, Amazon, and on Sunday, Target, removed apparel with the team’s mascot while FedEx — the team’s stadium sponsor — implored for a name change as well. 

Last week also saw the Cleveland MLB franchise announce that they will consider changing the name of their mascot “to advance social justice and equality.”

This shortly after the club removed the image of the controversial “Chief Wahoo,” a cartoon Native American, from caps and jersey patches.

Such decisions would end considerable runs of the names of both franchises.

Cleveland has had the same name since 1915 while Washington has been known for its mascot since 1933. 

The news obviously prompted split views on such an idea, including United States President Donald Trump, who tweeted: “They name teams out of STRENGTH, not weakness, but now the Washington Redskins & Cleveland Indians, two fabled sports franchises, look like they are going to be changing their names in order to be politically correct.”

The problem is, it’s not Trump or any random, non-Native-American football fan’s decision to label a team name or a depiction of a group of people as offensive or not. 

That’s not how it works. 

Earlier this month, several Native American leaders and organizations sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calling Washington’s team to change its name. Among those who signed the letter was retired PGA Tour golfer Notah Begay, two former executive directors of the National Congress of American Indians, and several authors and professors. 

They can decide if it’s offensive. The 6.79 million Native Americans who live in the United States decide if it’s offensive. Not President Trump, not Vice President Mike Pence, not me, some Italian-American from Long Island. 

If it does shine a negative light on a group of people who have been taken advantage of and abused for as long as there has been a United States, if they find it offensive and degrading, then change the name. 

There have already been a number of promising nicknames put forth to help facilitate such decisions:

3 Ideas for Washington’s NFL team name

Warriors: Washington owner Daniel Snyder trademarked the name in 2002 for an Arena Football League team which never came to fruition. 

Warriors provide a strong nickname and the only tweak needed for the uniform would just be the helmet and the wordmarks. Who doesn’t love alliteration?

Red Tails: A tribute to the Tuskeegee Airmen, the first Black aviators in the Army, would allow the franchise to keep “Red” in its nickname, thus not touching the colors or uniform. All they would have to do is come up with a design of a fighter pilot for the helmet. That shouldn’t be difficult.

Senators: Such a name would fit the theme of the other major sports franchises in the area. Washington D.C. is also home to the NHL’s Capitals and MLB’s Nationals. 

Senators would continue with that governmental pattern while paying tribute to the city’s American League baseball franchise which relocated on two-separate occasions. 

3 Ideas for Cleveland’s MLB team name

Spiders: Cleveland’s first major-league franchise in the National League went from the Blues to the Spiders in 1890 due to the skinny physique of their players. 

Featuring Hall of Famers like the great Cy Young and Jesse Burkett, they challenged some of the NL’s top teams throughout the decade before controversial roster management led to the league dropping the Spiders following the 1899 season. Still, this is a great opportunity for Cleveland baseball to return to its roots.

Cleveland Tribe: This name allows the franchise to keep its current theme while not having to go through an all-out rebrand. 

A tribe is defined as “a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader.”

Sports fans are one big family, one big community with a common culture (rooting for a baseball team). Besides, “Go Tribe” is already a common rallying cry amongst the fan base.

Cleveland Rocks: Cleveland is the home to the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame and it’s certainly an original idea. They already worked in an electric guitar into their 2019 All-Star Game logo, so it wouldn’t be that difficult to come up with a new look. 

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