Baseball sitting on dirt
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Indians, Guardians, and the Politics of Sports Team Names

Nicholas Frankovich writes at National Review Online about the latest example of a professional sports team changing its name.

“Cleveland Guardians” it will be. The news arrived on Friday, July 23, the day after the 225th anniversary of the city’s founding by a crew of Connecticut WASPs, who, having anchored on the southern shore of Lake Erie, gave the native people of the neighborhood not much say in the matter. A fan since childhood, I’d been dreading this moment since the front office confirmed, in December, that the Major League Baseball franchise in Cleveland would shed its longstanding nickname, Indians, after the 2021 season.

At this point, you’re liable to assume that I’ll spend the rest of this essay shaking my fist at left-wing social-justice warriors. It’s tempting. Be assured, I have words as well for culture warriors on the right who agreed to join the battle over the oldest sports tradition in that proud, misunderstood city on the banks of the Cuyahoga River. To those who began to wear the old colors and to flash the retired symbols not for love of the team but to own the libs, I say, “That’s when I knew the game was over.” …

… The reasons most often cited for objecting to “Indians” never added up, as you noticed if you calculated with a close eye and an open mind. Let’s run through the two main reasons, quickly.

To name a sports team after an ethnicity is to demean the ethnicity. Unless, apparently, we’re talking about northwestern Europeans — Vikings, Celtics, Yankees, Fighting Irish.

If you say that it isn’t racist to name a team after certain European ethnicities, I don’t disagree. If you then maintain that it is racist to name a team after a people whom European settler-colonizers displaced, please explain.

As a Cincinnati Reds fan, I voted to change Cleveland’s name to the River Fires.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...