Written by: Jillian VanDyke
Cleveland changes the name of its baseball team after over a decade. This change goes beyond a name.
A name change that has been the talk of the town for years has left Cleveland as the Guardians after the Indians 2021 season. The process started with the logo change in 2018 when the team changed Chief Wahoo to the classic C logo. However, the team continues to sell merchandise bearing the smiling, red-faced caricature that has drawn protests from Native American groups for decades. But, questions still loom: Will Indians gear — especially merchandise containing Chief Wahoo — become more expensive, and will the name change have inadvertent consequences?
Indigenous groups have been protesting the name and mascot for its racist roots for years.
This is another step in the long process of creating a more inclusive society.
What brought the MLB to finally come to terms with changing the name was the derogatory history behind the term Indians, along with the symbolism. Indigenous groups have been protesting the name and mascot for its racist roots for years. This is another step in the long process of creating a more inclusive society. However, those who do not agree with this sentiment continue to push back. Sometimes doing what is right is better than pleasing the population.
Guardians will be the fifth name in franchise history, joining Blues (1901), Bronchos (1902), Naps (1903-14) and Indians (1915-2021). The last name had no good relevance to the city, whereas the Guardians pertains to the Guardians of Transportation — statues on Hope Memorial Bridge that connects downtown to Ohio City — which are visible from Progressive Field. Of all professional sports team name changes, this one has been the most notable, because of its connection to social justice.
The Guardians represent the idea of protection. Cleveland folks are protective of their city and their teams, and have a strong sense of home-team pride.
The Guardians name is a moniker unique to the city. Not only does the name itself bear meaning, but so too does the mascot. The Guardians represent the idea of protection. Cleveland folks are protective of their city and their teams, and have a strong sense of home-team pride. The fact that the Guardians are so close to the stadium (quite literally watching over it) is also relevant.
The Guardians represent a sense of loyalty within the city. So with the name and logo change, will fans still promote the team?
When the name change was officially announced in July 2021, fans rushed to stores to buy Indians gear before it was gone. This signaled that the name change might not be effective. However, some fans may want to buy merchandise bearing the new designs because they like the change. This will benefit local businesses in Cleveland, along with the overall social-justice message behind the change from “Indians.”
... local artists and businesses that use Guardians imagery in their work are left feeling frustrated that the team is now using something that is already a staple of theirs.
Another issue to consider, however, is the number of other Cleveland businesses that already bear the Guardians of Transportation as their logo or some sort of trademark. Some include Metropolitan Coffee, Guardian Cold Brew Coffee and even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Furthermore, local artists and businesses that use Guardians imagery in their work are left feeling frustrated that the team is now using something that is already a staple of theirs. The name change of a landmark Cleveland organization like the Indians has the power to create ripples in the greater Cleveland business scene, so this name change could cause undue stress on business owners who used the Guardians image before the baseball team’s name change.
Case Western Reserve University law professor Aaron Perzanowski said the issue reminds him of a case the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame brought against a photographer who took photos of the exterior of its building and sold them on posters in the 1990s.
“The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame argued, ‘Well, wait, that's our trademark. You don't get to sell our image on your poster,'” Perzanowski said. “The court eventually rejected that argument and said, ‘Look, you can't stop people from photographing your buildings.' And I think the same sort of approach would apply, you know, when you're talking about the bridge… maybe even more strongly as a kind of piece of public infrastructure rather than a private building.”
But for now, “Cleveland Guardians” it is. Whether or not that remains is for time to tell. Regardless, the Guardians of Transportation are still there, watching over Cleveland like they have for almost 100 years.