#PRWin:  They’re Not Even Actual Indians, Cleveland – ‘Bout Time Ya Moved On

Well, it looks like it’s going to be official – Major League Baseball team, the Cleveland Indians, will soon be no more.

Now, before any of you Cleveland fans out there start taking down your memorabilia, your favorite team is very much alive and well. They’re still going to be playing and winning games, just under a new moniker. That name? Still TBD, but as early as the start of the 2022 baseball season, it won’t be as the Indians.1

That’s in part because for many years, the Cleveland Indians have received criticism for their long-standing nickname.

Pause for a little bit o’ baseball history: In 1915, the then Cleveland “Naps” (short for the Napoleons after their player and manager Napoleon Lajoie) changed their name when their namesake was sold to the A’s. Their inspiration for the new name came from Louis Sockalexis, a Native American, who played in Cleveland from 1897 to 1899.2

Appropriate for 1915 perhaps, but times change and so do public sentiments. The major league baseball team is been under criticism for many years now, as the name, “Indian” is now considered a less than appropriate, let alone correct, term for Native Americans.

The decision comes at a time of greater attention on the national conversation on race relations and the recent social unrest across the nation. In July of this year, the NFL was dealing with a similar issue concerning the Washington Redskins and their own decision to make a name change to reflect and acknowledge a more socially aware society. Just hours after the NFL’s announcement, Cleveland made public that its own nickname was under review.

However, changes in Cleveland’s team identity were already underway. Earlier in the year, Chief Wahoo, their mascot for decades, had already been retired. Many of Cleveland’s fans were in favor of the decision as the character was a not-exactly-flattering Native American representation. A stylized letter “C” is now in its place.

Among many fans and Native American groups, the changes were overdue, but welcomed. As to expected, some have disagreed with the decision, but the Cleveland team hasn’t experienced a major blowback, but the media coverage has been a huge help in garnering them the PR they need, that being proactive explaining their reasoning:


Bloomberg: Cleveland Baseball Team to Drop ‘Indians’ Name, NYT Reports

U.S. News & World Report: Cleveland to Drop ‘Indians’ From Team Name: New York Times

The Hill: Cleveland baseball team to remove ‘Indians’ from name: NYT

ESPN: Sources: Cleveland to drop Indians nickname after 105 years


While all of the news is very fresh, I must say the coverage has by and large matter of fact and positive – not fawning praise mind you – that’s not the job of the press.

It also helps that as part of that message the Cleveland baseball franchise will choose a new name in consultation with the public – engaging directly with their audience and sending the message that they too are listening and actively working to solve a problem that in all likelihood, history will look upon them favorably for.

What the Cleveland Indians really excelled at here was the control of the message – being extremely proactive reaching out to their public, and creating the conversation they wanted.

This is one baseball team that learned how “play ball” – and hit a PR home run.

Even if you’re not a nationally known Major League Baseball team, you still need to have a well-researched communications plan in place before you start your messaging. Not only do you need to know who your audience is, but you must also know their needs, wants and, hot button issues, and in some cases their pain points. Not having that knowledge means you’ll hit a “foul ball” that instantly becomes a PR problem.

Click here to find out how a Strategic Communications Plan can keep you in control of your messaging.

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  1. Waldstein, David and Schmidt, Michael S. “Cleveland’s Baseball Team Will Drop Its Indians Team Name.” The New York Times, 13 December 2020, nytimes.com/2020/12/13/sports/baseball/cleveland-indians-baseball-name-change.html.
  2. Wikipedia. “Cleveland Indians.”, last edited 14 December 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleveland_Indians.