The Washington NFL franchise isn’t alone in taking a look at its name. The Cleveland MLB franchise is now doing the same thing.
“We are committed to making a positive impact in our community and embrace our responsibility to advance social justice and equality,” the team said in a statement. “Our organization fully recognizes our team name is among the most visible ways in which we connect with the community.
“We have had ongoing discussions organizationally on these issues. The recent social unrest in our community and our country was only underscored the need for us to keep improving as an organization on issues of social justice. With that in mind, we are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.
“While the focus of the baseball world shifts to the excitement of an unprecedented 2020 season, we recognize our unique place in the community and are committed to listening, leaning, and acting in the manner that can best unite and inspire our city and all those who support our team.”
Cleveland hasn’t faced nearly the kind of criticism that Washington has received, presumably because the Cleveland name isn’t a dictionary-defined slur. So the question as to Cleveland becomes more nuanced and delicate and necessarily driven by the input of Native Americans and the groups that represent them.
Previously, the team retired the cartoon “Chief Wahoo” logo that many believed crossed the line. Now, a broader look at the name of the team will occur. Unlike Washington’s announcement that a “thorough review” of its name has begun, Cleveland’s decision doesn’t create the sense that a name change is a fait accompli.
This same analysis would apply, potentially, to the Kansas City Chiefs. The name may not need to be changed, but the team may need to take a step back and at least confirm that the name still works, a gesture inspired by this moment of racial reckoning and awakening. Perhaps for both franchises, the end result will be that the names can continue but related activities should go — from wearing headdresses to games to other misappropriations of Native American culture to the chanting on the word “Chiefs” to replace the final word of the national anthem, a rebellion without a cause against the respect that so many insist be displayed during the playing of the song before every game.
Indians, Chiefs, and other names inspired by Native Americans aren’t racial slurs, so we’ll keep using them and not argue that they should be changed. This doesn’t mean that keeping the names will be the right path for these teams, and there’s nothing wrong with Cleveland’s decision to press pause in order to confirm that the name isn’t a problem, at a time when Washington finally has agreed that its name is. There would be nothing wrong with the Chiefs doing the same thing, and there would be nothing wrong with both teams keeping their names after consciously and deliberately concluding that it’s appropriate to do so.