Source: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
In the midst of NFL week 14, the largest sports news of the day came from baseball. The New York Times reported that the Cleveland Indians would make an imminent nickname change — removing Indians. Cleveland ownership confirmed the reports Monday.
The Cleveland Baseball Team took up the Indians nickname in 1915, replacing Naps. Recently, this name received pushback from media, fans, and Indigenous Americans. The tipping point was the 2020 racial reawakening, which catalyzed the Washington Football Team removing their nickname of 83 seasons. Now, the Cleveland Indians follow.
The Cleveland Baseball Team partially retired the Indians logo for the 2014 season, as they replaced the Chief Wahoo logo with a red C on their caps.
There are a couple of factors that complicate the complete retirement of the Indians nickname. Nike just completed their first of a ten-year contract as Major League Baseball’s official on-field apparel brand, replacing Majestic. Nike flooded the market with licensed Indians apparel with the coveted Swoosh. However, this flood causes an issue, especially if teams decide to change their names. Apparel companies hedge this risk by forcing teams to sign contracts forbidding logo and nickname change. Adidas and the NHL require teams to lock in with jersey designs for three seasons. This allows apparel companies to produce licensed goods without the risk of replacing the items when the teams decide to go with a new design, which is costly.
While this contractual barrier is unconfirmed, it is strengthened by the fact that Cleveland Indians apparel is still available at Nike.com. In July of this year, Nike decided that selling Washington Football Team apparel with the old nickname was insensitive and pulled all gear from its retailers.
Secondly, the nickname purgatory creates an opportunity for squatters. Trademark squatting is where a third party registers a trademark with the PTO because it feels that a large corporation is interested in it. The squatter does this in hopes of receiving compensation for the trademark.
Philip McCauley of Alexandria, Virginia, decided to trademark the above nicknames, some of which were allegedly preferred by Washington Football Team ownership. This squatting was one reason why the Washington Football Team did not adopt a nickname for the 2020 NFL Season.
The Cleveland Baseball Team’s move to remove Indians could increase revenue and goodwill for the team. Not only would people buy the new Cleveland apparel, but there would also be a rush to purchase Indians apparel due to scarcity. Contrarily, the removal of the nickname and logo would remove the constant protest.
Regardless of the possible reasons, it is clear that the climate has changed. After the nickname change, the Chicago Blackhawks will be the only major sports team with an Indigenous caricature as their logo. Additionally, the future of Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Braves nicknames are uncertain, despite affirmations by ownership. Going forward, it is clear that public perception is changing, and other teams may retire their Indigenous nicknames.