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Finally ditching racist nickname, MLB's new Guardians aim to be 'the best Cleveland organization we can be'

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 7/24/2021 Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY
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Really, it didn’t matter which nickname Cleveland’s baseball team decided to select.

They ultimately went with the Guardians, choosing the new nickname several weeks ago before announcing it Friday to the baseball world.

a person standing in front of a building: A view of the Hope Memorial Bridge and Progressive Field in Cleveland. © Tony Dejak, AP A view of the Hope Memorial Bridge and Progressive Field in Cleveland.

They could have gone with the Cleveland Spiders, the city’s professional baseball team before 1900.

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Could have chosen the Cleveland Rocks since they play in the shadow of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Could have even gone with the Cleveland Dobys, honoring Hall of Famer Larry Doby, the first Black player in the American League.

They gathered 1,198 nicknames possibilities before going with "Guardians."

In the end, all that mattered was that they finally had the decency to change their name from the Cleveland Indians.

It was insulting, offensive and innately racist.

Now, just like the Confederate statues, Cleveland’s baseball team name is no longer – a soon as the last out is made in their 2021 season.

text: Cleveland held a press conference Friday announcing the name change. © Jason Miller, Getty Images Cleveland held a press conference Friday announcing the name change.

“We’re trying to be the best Cleveland organization we can be,’’ new Guardians/old Indians manager Terry Francona said, “and be united for everybody and represent the city of Cleveland like it deserves. ...

“We are trying to be the most respectful we can. It’s not about us. It’s about other people. And you have to step outside your own skin and think of other people that may have different [color] skin and what they’re thinking.’’

Well, they’re thinking: It’s about damn time.

Deb Haaland, the 54th Secretary of the Interior, who describes herself as a proud member of Pueblo of Laguna, tweeted: “I am glad to see that the Cleveland baseball team is finally changing its name. The long practice of using Native American mascots and imagery in sports team has been harmful to indigenous communities. This is a welcome and necessary change.’’

And, oh, how long overdue.

Stanford University changed its nickname from the Indians to the Cardinal in 1972. Dartmouth dropped the Indians in 1974 and went with the Big Green. St. Johns dropped the Redmen and went to the Red Storm in 1995.

Now, the professional sports leagues are finally following suit.

“It’s wonderful,’’ Ray Halbritter, leader of the Oneida Nation, told ESPN’s Outside the Lines. “For too many years Native people have either been treated as relics or mascots. We were told what we should and should not consider respect. ... Other people are not denigrated this way, and that does have a very devastating impact on the self-image for our youth.’’

But let’s be honest here, if it wasn’t for mounting public pressure, owner Larry Dolan never would have changed the name of its baseball team. He steadfastly refused until Dan Snyder and his Washington Football Team removed its nickname with corporate sponsors threatening to pull out.

Well, with Progressive Corp., the auto insurance giant, threatening to remove its stadium naming rights sponsorship worth about $3.6 million a year, and Major League Baseball forcing Dolan to rid itself of the racist Chief Wahoo caricature from their uniforms before they hosted the 2019 All-Star Game, Dolan finally succumbed, telling the Cleveland Plan-Dealer that it’s “the hardest decision we’ve had to make during our entire ownership.’’

Are you kidding?

It should have been the easiest.

Next up? The Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Braves, whose owners like Dolan and Snyder also keep resisting change, but know that time is running out.

If nothing else, the folks in Cleveland showed that it really is not that complicated.

The Guardians are keeping the team's colors and script font that have been synonymous with the ballclub for more than 75 years.

The road uniforms will still bear the name Cleveland with the Guardians script on the home uniforms.

And they’re able to celebrate their city and commemorate the Hope Memorial Bridge with the eight, 43-foot stone sculptures of guardians, symbolizing strength and power.

Oh, and those fans who are furious at the change, threatening to boycott their games?

Well, they’ll be back at the first winning streak and jumping on the bandwagon.

You cheer for the team – not the name, not the Chief Wahoo caricature or the logo.

It shouldn’t have taken 106 years to figure it out.

“Cleveland has and always will be the most important part of our identity,’’ Dolan said. “Therefore, we wanted a name that strongly represents the pride, resiliency and loyalty of Clevelanders. ‘Guardians’ reflects those attributes that define us while drawing on the iconic Guardians of Traffic just outside the ballpark on the Hope Memorial Bridge.

“It brings to life the pride Clevelanders take in our city and the way we fight together for all who choose to be part of the Cleveland baseball family. While ‘Indians’ will always be a part of our history, our new name will help unify our fans and city as we are all Cleveland Guardians.”

The true baseball fans in Cleveland will love their team, curse their team, and cry with their team no matter that they’ll be called a different name for the first time since 1915.

Come on, teams change stadium names all of the time, going with the sponsor who offers the most money, and not a soul abandons their fandom.

It’s not so different.

The Guardians, rooted in Cleveland, are here to stay, with Dolan telling reporters that their Progressive Field lease will be renewed and the franchise will not move.

It’s time for the Guardians to start their own history, with a new generation of fans wondering how Cleveland’s racist nickname lasted so long in the first place.

Who knows, maybe that first World Series title since 1948 can follow, too.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Finally ditching racist nickname, MLB's new Guardians aim to be 'the best Cleveland organization we can be'

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