The Washington NFL franchise’s announcement of a “thorough review” of its name instantly was interpreted as a decision to change it. The Cleveland MLB franchise’s decision to consider changing its name wasn’t. Perhaps now it should be.
“I think it’s time to move forward,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said Sunday regarding the name, via the Associated Press.
“I’ve been thinking about it and been thinking about it before we put out that statement,” Francona explained. “I know in the past, when I’ve been asked about, whether it’s our name or the Chief Wahoo, I think I would usually answer and say I know that we’re never trying to be disrespectful. . . . And I still feel that way. But I don’t think that’s a good enough answer today. I think it’s time to move forward. It’s a very difficult subject. It’s also delicate.”
For years, the Washington name was under assault. The Cleveland name, a generic reference to Native Americans, has not faced opposition remotely close to that. When the Chief Wahoo caricature, went away, the name did not.
“Even at my age, you don’t want to be too old to learn or to realize that, maybe I’ve been ignorant of some things, and to be ashamed of it, and to try to be better,” Francona said. “I’m glad that we’re going to be open to listening, because I think that’s probably the most important thing right now, is being willing to listen, not necessarily just talk.”
It’s a significant stance, given that “Indians” isn’t a dictionary-defined slur. And it also raises the question of whether the Chiefs will engage in a similar discussion. Even if the Chiefs don’t explore the issue on their own, Francona’s comments likely make it inevitable that coach Andy Reid will be asked about it during his next videoconference with reporters.
Like Indians, Chiefs isn’t a slur; there’s no obvious urgency to change names that aren’t slurs. But the current racial reckoning and awakening is sweeping broadly, and if the Indians name goes it will be difficult for the Chiefs to avoid the conversation entirely, even if in the end the Chiefs decide to retain the name.
If they do, that’s fine with me. The point is that, in this moment, all teams with Native American names should take a step back and confirm that it’s the right name to keep moving forward.