26 July 2021TrademarksMuireann Bolger

Cleveland baseball team updates offensive name to ‘Guardians’

Following decades of pressure and criticism from the Native American community, a major US league baseball team has confirmed that it will change its name from Cleveland Indians to Cleveland Guardians.

The club announced the name change on Friday, July 22, with a  video posted on Twitter voiced by actor Tom Hanks. The name change is effective at the end of the 2021 season.

In the wake of the tragic murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the increased prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, organisations and institutions worldwide have come under mounting pressure to remove offensive trademarks and find alternative brand names.

To explore this issue, World IP Review last week invited three IP lawyers from Browne George Ross O’Brien Annaguey & Ellis (BGR) to discuss “ Trends & practical examples of evolving moral standards in trademark protection”.

High-profile controversies involving other US sports teams such as the Washington Redskins have highlighted increased scrutiny of once accepted brands being reexamined in today’s shifting moral climate.

A need for change

The Cleveland club had used “Indians” since it was founded in 1915, but in a statement released in December 2020, team owner Paul Dolan acknowledged the need for a change.

“Hearing firsthand the stories and experiences of Native American people, we gained a deep understanding of how tribal communities feel about the team name and the detrimental effects it has on them.”

He added: “We also spoke to local civic leaders who represent diverse populations in our city and who highlighted the negative impact our team name has on our broader population and on under-represented groups across our community.”

Back in 2018, the club stopped wearing the “Chief Wahoo” logo, a racist caricature of a Native American, on their jerseys and caps. But it drew ire when it continued to sell merchandise bearing the controversial character.

The name change comes as the Washington Redskins football team continues to work toward a similar makeover. The club said it will reveal a new name and logo in 2022.

Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director and founder of  IllumiNative, a group representing the views of Native Americans welcomed the move.

In a statement  released on Friday, he said: “It is a major step toward righting the wrongs committed against Native peoples and is one step toward justice."

“Cleveland’s leadership was the first to begin the process of not only eliminating harmful mascots and team names, but also proof that eliminating the use of Native American imagery in sports is possible. Both Cleveland and Washington are proof that it’s not a matter of if mascots can change, it’s when.”

However, he pointed out that other US clubs needed to also address and tackle their racist roots.

“How much longer will the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, and Chicago Blackhawks pretend that change isn’t inevitable? The NFL, MLB and NHL must urge these franchises to stand on the right side of history,” he urged.

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26 June 2014   A US baseball team is facing a multi-billion dollar lawsuit demanding its “offensive” name and trademarks are cancelled, just days after the Washington Redskins fell foul of a similar lawsuit.
31 January 2018   US baseball team the Cleveland Indians announced on Monday that they will retire their controversial ‘Chief Wahoo’ logo from their uniforms next year.
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