The Cleveland Guardians and the Rise of the Stupid Team Names

A sports fan could and should care less about their team mascot. Perhaps in the selection moment, everybody has an opinion, but once you get past the bogus premise it matters if you’re a Seahawk or a Tiger or a Bear, you merely want your team to win a title. Or if you’re in a non-major TV market, simply not suck all the time.

You might name your kid Fred because your dad had an uncle who stormed Normandy and gave you Lifesavers as a kid, but teams largely pick their names entirely insignificantly. Oh, look, we wear red socks and you wear white socks, we shall be the Red Sox and you shall be the White Sox. Deep. On the Animal Planet channel, the lion beats the ram every single time. In the NFL, the Rams are likely to beat the Lions 7 out of 10 tries. The Giants aren’t any larger than the Pee Wees. Okay, there is no team named The Pee Wees, but if there were and they were owned by a wealthy New York or L.A. ownership group, they’d still be perennial contenders.

You can tell nobody gives a shit about team names by the mere fact that nobody ever changes them. The New Orleans Jazz moved to Utah in 1979 and have kept the name now for 42 years. There is no jazz in Utah. There arent even any black people in Utah. Not outside of the players on the Utah Jazz. Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Los Angeles is in a forever drought. Still, since 1960 it’s the Los Angeles Lakers, not the Los Angeles Hollywood Pedo Woke Silicone Implants. Nobody in L.A. would care if they changed the team name to the latter, only if the team was good and they could jump on the bandwagon during title runs. Granted, gross merchandise sales could be hurt.

We’re at the cultural evolution stage where team names only matter if they’re deemed offensive. Anybody with an intersectional pedigree will nominate the outrage. The seconds will come from coastal white elites who know better than to be first in the victim spotlight but will definitely pile on like sharks in a feeding frenzy. Public virtue signaling is their injured harbor seal.

The current noblesse oblige target is sports teams with Native American references in their names. Clearly, some of these team names are not the nickname you’d choose for yourself if invited to a Cherokee friend’s house for dinner. Hey, everybody, I’m Bruce, but tonight, call me Redskin. I’d like to fit in.

“Braves on the warpath” is how the Redskins fight song goes, or went, Hail to the Redskins, since 1938.

The Washington Redskins were originally called the Boston Braves, one of the early NFL franchises, founded in 1933. They took the name Braves because they shared a field with the then MLB team, the Boston Braves. A year later they moved to Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox, so they felt obliged to pick another Indian-themed name. Not sure who picked Redskins, or the impetus behind it, but that’s what they went with. They did hire a head coach who publicly claimed to be part Sioux. Elizabeth Warren could be more Native American than that coach, but obviously, the owner felt some need to run with the Indian theme. There’s no evidence they chose the name to be derogatory or inflammatory, as uncouth as the name may sound years later.

The Redskins moved to D.C. in 1937 after remembering that nobody in Boston gave a shit about football. In D.C. they had a baked-in audience of drunk politicians and growing numbers of big-spending bureaucrats in the federal government to be hardcore loyalists. Say what you want about the Tony Fauci’s of this world, they make for reliable local sports fans. Their jobs are never in jeopardy.

Through the last few decades, there were grumblings about The Redskins name being patently offensive to Native Americans. A tribal activist or two would get a media run every few years insisting the name caused pain to her people. Though polling was often done suggesting that a majority of Native Americans didn’t really care a whit. It’s hard to peg the accurate sentiment. The tribal activists were likely way overblown and the polls likely way under blown. Meanwhile the Washington Redskins and team owner Dan Snyder merely wanted to stink year after year and sexually harass employees in the front office and be left alone. By 2020, that was impossible due to social media amplifying discordant voices and corporations racing for the P.R. high ground in the “I’m so not a racist” theater of our day.

The Washington Redskins announced they were dropping the Redskins moniker. Fine. Then in a move of utter idiocy, they declared they were adopting the generic title of “Football Team” while they came up with the team’s new name. A six-year-old child could come up with a new team name in ten seconds. Somehow the Washington football team decided it would take 2x the time it took to build the Empire State Building to pick an innocuous and meaningless mascot to arbitrarily dot their uniforms. The Washington Football team hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005. If we’re interested in more serious problems.

Short of renaming yourselves the Washington Wounded Knees, you could think of no worse idea than picking nothing. You could’ve gone Owls or Orioles or Kangaroos and within 48 hours nobody would care. But now you’ve opened up the process to the public for random thoughts and contributions. Not simply from Little League dads who fight with kids over the best team name, but from every didactic Twitter slacktivist determined to inject their moron sperm into this mascot debate vagina. Rough metaphor. But science.

Chief Wahoo, the perfect mascot for drunk white guys to imitate in the stands.

The woman at my high school who managed the student assemblies in the auditorium once told me, “There’s only one rule about running these things — never turn the lights off.” She went off into some diatribe about how teens in the dark even for seconds turn into drunken buccaneers rapists. I would’ve cut her off, but she was right. Never leave hordes of people with unformed brains in the dark. Chaos.

The Redskins name change announcement combined with the woke shadow that has enveloped this land like a liberal arts major Mordor led to a series of college teams changing their team names to something that would pass Brooklyn vegan coffee house customer social justice guidelines. Though this is hardly a new era of dropping native American mascot names. Universities have been ditching “Indians”, “Braves” and even “Redskins” monikers since the early 1970’s when the Crying Indian PSA hit the airwaves. Though that was about dumb white people littering our nation’s byways with McDonald’s wrappers.

In December of 2020, the Cleveland Indians, who have been the Cleveland Indians since 1915, announced they would be the next pro sports team to exit the land of tribal-adjacent team names. In 2018 they officially dropped the fairly questionable Indian chief caricature, Chief Wahoo, from their logo and uniforms. Chief Wahoo is a red-faced Indian brave with a single-feather and a hooked nose to tease the anti-Semites into feeling at home. Not everybody hates Indians, but a Jewish Indian, that’s a thing.

Following the Redskins and Indians’ decision, expect that the Atlanta Braves, Kansas Chiefs, and similar others will not be far behind. The Golden State Warriors I’d put on a name-changing bubble since the term is generic. Though I’m sure somebody will find a letter from somebody to somebody from 1967 that indicates some cultural appropriation. This is how the censor-minded ball rolls, downhill, and picking up steam.

It’s hard to argue against the decision to step away from the Native American nomenclature, let alone the pictures of little red men smoking wampum. An honest exploration shows little outright hatred or vile prejudice in the original selection of these names. Most of the thinking seemed to be, Indians are kind of cool and known as being bad-asses, so let’s homage them. Still, while you’d be hardpressed to explain why Kendall Jenner can’t sell tequila to hipsters because she’s not Mexican, you can probably understand why 50,000 rednecks doing “tomahawk chops” at a baseball game could be deemed offensive to Native American heritage. Bringing common sense to these issues is not the worst idea. Though clearly the least used tool in the modern toolbox.
The Cleveland Indians brought out the big guns — Tom Hanks — to narrate a moving tale of Cleveland and the new Cleveland Guardians name. I dare you not to cry.

The bigger question is the selection of the new names. The last thing you want to do when trying to be corporately non-offensive in your word choices is to drop your local reference to the Whittlesey people after 106 years and come up with something that will be put through the same ninny trigger ringer.

There are two ways to proceed. The first is picking some incredibly generic, tried, and true sports team mascot name that has never been seriously challenged in the past. A common bird is always pretty safe. The Blue Jays and Orioles are taken, but the Hawks are, not in the MLB. The Owls are solid. Or try a mammal. The gazelles, the badgers, and the foxes are all available. Don’t pick anything endangered obviously, or used in coats or to create the perfect mascara blend.

The second path is the faux-thoughtful name selection process. The one the Cleveland franchise opted for. You gather a bunch of local leaders, officials, representatives, and somebody to take notes on a whiteboard and tell them to come up with something super Cleveland, but obviously not offensive to a single living soul with a Twitter account. If you’ve ever told your kids it’s their night to decide where to get takeout, you know the general vibe. And how it ends up. Everybody is unhappy. The top-down command structure exists for a reason. Democracy is largely an inefficient hoax. Churchill noted the greatest case against democracy is spending five minutes with the average voter. Imagine spending five minutes in the “Rename the Cleveland Indians” meeting. You’ll be begging for an autocrat.

In their committee omnipotence, the organization came up with The Cleveland Guardians. WTF are the Guardians? Funny you should ask.

There’s a bridge over the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland built in the early 1930s that contains four stone pillars with relief statues of four “Guardians of Traffic”. They’re sort of Greek-god-inspired art deco characters that look out into four different directions, representing the evolution of ground transportation. Like something you might find on UPS corporate stationery.

The statues were created when the bridge was first built in the early 1930’s when Cleveland was the “it” commercial town.

These Guardians of Traffic hoist a hay cart, motorcar, commercial truck and I think one has an early version of a Tesla or something. These pillar carvings served a secondary purpose in that they’re housed closets to store bridge cleaning supplies. So, broom closets.

Like everything else in Cleveland, these Guardians of Traffic statues fell into great disrepair. Many times through the years, Clevelanders considering knocking them down to widen the bridge. As late as 2017, a Cleveland City Councilman noted the Guardians of Traffic weren’t even lit at night. He called it an outrage. Nobody seemed to care. LeBron had just left town. Again.

A cynical person might imagine that the renaming committee was holding yet another clock-watching session at Progressive Field when one super bored guy looked out the window and saw the bridge and the statues and yelped out, “Guardians of Traffic!”. Followed by the guy pushing for the Cleveland Parmaegddons, in honor of the local artery-clogging sandwich favorite, said, “What the hell are the Guardians of Traffic?” One by one the committee members realized he was talking about those dirty weird statues many of them drive by mindlessly on the bridge day after day. And they all giggled. So the Guardians of Traffic name proponent asked everybody if they wanted to spend another minute in this baseball park hellhole trying to come up with a different stupid name.

But Guardians of Traffic is not only arcane, it’s too long. So the one guy with the MBA suggested, hey, what if we just use Guardians. Everybody was already tired and it was WWE Raw Night on TV, so they all nodded their heads in surrender. Janet was charged with finding some graphic artists to build the new look of the team name and logo. She tried to save a buck by posting an ad on Fiver. Some guy who can reach Bali in 10 hours by sandaled-foot with far too many consonants in his name to be enunciable comes back with the drawings. All you can say is they only cost five dollars. And the rest is history.

While the Cleveland Indians haven’t won a World Series in over 70 seasons, they’ve been a competitive team much of the past 25. They’re not an also-ran franchise. They are now named the Guardians. In a season or two, the jokes will largely stop, especially if the team can win. Team names, like religions, are laughed at in their infancy, then eventually take hold as totally normal. The first world series win in 75+ years will settle that right up.

This is a signal of what’s to come. With the Redskins re-naming and a number of aforementioned teams to follow. Not merely the names deemed offensive to Native Americans largely by people of Saxon ancestry, but inadvertently cross-haired names like the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers are toast once any number of Antifa-minded baristas dig up its Lewis and Clark expeditionary origins and discuss how the Shoshone translator Sacagawea was micro-aggressed almost nonstop through both Dakotas.

Renaming things is hardly new. Every conquering army of every conquering tribe took to rename the land and landmarks of those they conquered, to change their very language. There’s a reason the Roman alphabet is used in one-third of the entire world today. And why half these pro sports venues are called coliseums. To the victor goes the word spoils. We aren’t overrun by centurions at the moment, mostly liberal arts grads with nose rings, desperate to find any purpose in their lightly working existence. I can tell you who is scarier between the two. And it’s not the plundering soldiers.

Expect a repeat of the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians’ clumsy and awkward corporate response process. The dominoes are tipping now. You should try not to respond with outrage. That will be hard. But do your best to remember why you care about sports in the first place. It beats having to talk to your children.