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Cleveland Baseball Team Will Drop Controversial Name To 'Unify Our Community'

Cleveland's Major League Baseball team will get a new name sometime after the 2021 season. It follows the NFL's Washington Football Team in abandoning a name and imagery widely seen as racist or culturally offensive.
Cleveland's Major League Baseball team will get a new name sometime after the 2021 season. It follows the NFL's Washington Football Team in abandoning a name and imagery widely seen as racist or culturally offensive.

Cleveland's Major League Baseball team is the latest professional sports franchise to announce it will abandon its long-time name, which is widely seen as racist or culturally offensive.

The baseball club, known since 1915 as the Cleveland Indians, announced in a statement on Monday that it will "begin the process of changing the name," according to a letter to fans from owner Paul Dolan.

Dolan said the team would continue to use its current name until a new name and brand are settled on that will "better unify our community and build our legacy for a new generation."

Dolan said the decisions "are complex and would take time." In an interview with The Associated Press, Dolan said the team would use the current name during the 2021 season.

The new name will be "non-Native American based," the organization said in a statement.

The team is the second franchise to shed a team name referring to Native Americans. In July, the Washington Football Team of the NFL dropped its former name during a summer rattled by protests against racism and police brutality.

Cleveland is following Washington's lead by delaying its selection of a new team name. The team cited several logistical considerations for a go-slow approach to choosing a new name, including the need to redesign uniforms, team equipment and fan merchandise.

Both Cleveland and Washington long faced criticism for their teams' names, but the owners of the clubs had pushed back against demands to change.

Ahead of the 2019 season, Cleveland's baseball team phased out Native American imagery and logos and retired its mascot, a Native American caricature.

Even so, this July, the Cleveland team appeared to reject demands for it to drop its name. At the time, management released a statement on Twitter saying it was "committed to making a positive impact in the community," but said the team's name is one of the most visible ways it forms fan connections.

Dolan followed up last summer by saying that he would welcome communication with Native American leaders at the start of the regular season.

"We feel a real sense of urgency to discuss these perspectives with key stakeholders while also taking the time needed to ensure those conversations are inclusive and meaningful," Dolan's statement at the time read.

At least one early, high-profile detractor criticized the team's decision to rebrand.

President Trump tweeted Dec. 13 ahead of the official news of the name change that the move was an example of "cancel culture at work!"

According to the team history, prior to its present name Cleveland's baseball team was known as the Naps, after Nap Lajoie, one of the team's star players at the time. The team was a founding member of the American League in 1901.

NPR's Merrit Kennedy contributed to this report.

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