Cleveland MLB owner says team name will change, but not in 2021

Cleveland's Major League Baseball team is changing its name — it just doesn't know to what or when. Owner Paul Dolan said 'it's time,' and that after months of internal discussions, the American League franchise is dropping the name it has been known by since 1915.

Team has faced criticism that its name is racist

Cleveland's Major League Baseball team will change its name amid criticism that it is racist. However the team's owner says the change won't come in 2021. (Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Cleveland's Major League Baseball team is changing its name — it just doesn't know to what or when.

Expressing that "it's time," owner Paul Dolan said that after months of internal discussions and meetings with groups, including Native Americans who have sought to have the team stop using a moniker many deem racist, the American League franchise is dropping the name it has been known by since 1915.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Dolan said: "The name is no longer acceptable in our world."

A "multi-stage" process is in its early stages and the team will play — and be branded the same — at least through next season.

Dolan said the name will remain in 2021, "and then after that, it's a difficult and complex process to identify a new name and do all the things you do around activating that name. We are going to work at as quick a pace as we can while doing it right.

"But we're not going to do something just for the sake of doing it. We're going to take the time we need to do it right."

Dolan said the team will not adopt an interim name until choosing its new one.

"We don't want to be the Cleveland Baseball Team or some other interim name," he said.

Cleveland's move away from the name follows a similar decision earlier this year by the NFL's Washington Football Team and the CFL's Edmonton Football Team.

"It was a learning process for me," Dolan said, "and I think when fair-minded, open-minded people really look at it, think about it and maybe even spend some time studying it, I like to think they would come to the same conclusion: It's a name that had its time, but this is not the time now, and certainly going forward, the name is no longer acceptable in our world."

Team considers other options

As Cleveland considers options for names, Dolan said Tribe, which has been a popular nickname for the club for decades, has been ruled out.

"We are not going to take a half-step." he said. "The new name, and I do not know what it is, will not be a name that has Native American themes or connotations to it."

The decision was welcomed by Native American groups that met with the club.

"The team made a genuine effort to listen and learn," said Cynthia Connolly, executive board member of the Lake Erie Native American Council in the Cleveland Indigenous Coalition.

"We hope this serves as a blueprint for other professional teams and the 200-plus high school teams in the Cleveland area. If there is a school or team that truly cares about fighting racism, these mascots cannot coexist."

Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker also agreed with the decision.

"I spent a lot of time with the Native Americans, especially the Cheyenne tribe in Montana, and I grew up with a lot of Navajo kids in Southern California," he said. "And so I think I think that it's apropos. And it's as good for the times and it's been a long time coming."

'Epiphany' came after death of George Floyd 

The name change announced by Dolan is the latest from an organization reacting to a national movement, which gained momentum in the wake of widespread civil rights protests last summer, to have prejudicial names and symbols removed.

Across the south, Civil War monuments were taken down, and in some cases names were taken off buildings.

Dolan said his "awakening or epiphany" came following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while being arrested by Minneapolis police officers earlier this year.

Cleveland MLB owner Paul Dolan, seen speaking before a baseball game in August 2017, says the team will change its name. In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, Dolan said: “The name is no longer acceptable in our world.” (Phil Long/The Associated Press)

He empathizes with a segment of Cleveland fans who will be displeased with decision.

"I fully understand it," he said of the expected backlash. "I consider myself a fifth-generation Clevelander. It's in our blood and baseball and the [name] are synonymous, and that goes to the whole intent versus impact thing. Nobody intended anything negative by our attachment to the name, but the impact has been tough."

Washington's NFL franchise dropped their team name in July after bowing to pressure from corporate sponsors.

WATCH | Pro sports teams face pressure to change their names:

The National: Pro sports teams reconsidering Indigenous nicknames


9 months ago
CBC News' Raffy Boudjikanian reports on the Washington Redskins' plans to review their nickname, followed closely by the Cleveland Indians' decision to reconsider their team nickname. 2:30

Hours after the Washington announcement, Dolan said there would be a thorough review of Cleveland's MLB team name.

He promised then to listen and learn, and said that's what transpired in recent months during discussions with fans, business leaders, players, social activists and researchers focused on Native American culture and issues.

Conversations 'enlightening and challenging'

Dolan called those conversations "both enlightening and challenging."

He added there's a delicate balance between moving ahead and looking back.

"We are going to honour our past," he said. "We're not walking away from our past. We'll be the Cleveland [team] of 1915 to whatever year is that we ultimately change. We will always celebrate that. I don't think we have to ignore it.

"But from the day we make the change, the new history that we build together as a community with our team will be under the banner of a different name."

Cleveland's name change comes on the heels of the team removing the controversial Chief Wahoo logo from its caps and jerseys in 2019.

James Watson, left, protests before a Cleveland baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland on Monday, April 1, 2019. The team's owner said Monday that after months of internal discussions and meetings with different groups, including Native Americans, the American League franchise is dropping the name it has been known by since 1915. (Tony Dejak/The Associated Press)

The team has never stopped selling merchandise bearing the grinning, cartoonish figure, but Dolan said any profits from future sales of Wahoo items will go to Native American organizations or causes supporting Native Americans.

Dolan's family bought the team in 2000, and even then said he knew Chief Wahoo "was problematic." It was only after this summer's unrest and in educating himself on Native American issues that he recognized the name in the same light.

"There is definitely some pain in this. It's the end of an era or the beginning of an era. But accompanying that is the recognition and maybe even excitement that we're going on to do something that is better," he said.  

"It will be better for the community. It will be better for our team. And it will be something hopefully that unites everybody. It's not anything that we have to feel any kind of reluctance about expressing. 

"It's going to take some time for everybody to embrace, but I think when they do, we'll all be better off for it."

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