Known as the Indians since 1915, Cleveland's Major League Baseball team will next be called the Guardians.
The ballclub announced the name change Friday with a video on Twitter narrated by actor Tom Hanks, ending months of internal discussions triggered by a national reckoning by institutions and teams to permanently drop logos and names considered racist.
Together, we are all... pic.twitter.com/R5FnT4kv1I— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) July 23, 2021
The name change is effective at the end of the 2021 season.
Cleveland's new name was inspired by the large landmark stone edifices -- referred to as traffic guardians -- that flank both ends of the Hope Memorial Bridge, which connects downtown to Ohio City. As the team moved closer to making a final decision on the name, team owner Paul Dolan said he found himself looking closely at the huge art deco sculptures.
"Frankly, I hadn't studied them that closely until we started talking about them and I should emphasize, we're not named after the bridge, but there's no question that it's a strong nod to those and what they mean to the community,'' he said following a news conference at the ballpark.
The organization spent most of the past year whittling down a list of potential names that was at nearly 1,200 just over a month ago. But the process, which the team said included 140 hours of interviews with fans, community leaders, front-office personnel and a survey of 40,000 fans, quickly accelerated, and the club landed on Guardians.
Dolan has said last summer's social unrest, touched off by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, spurred his intention to change the club's name.
"We do feel like we're doing the right thing and that's what's driving this,'' Dolan said. "I know some people disagree, but if anything I've gotten more and more comfortable that we're headed in the right direction.
"And actually, the selection of the name solidifies that feeling because of the values that the name represents."
Dolan said he knows there's a portion of Cleveland's fan base that might never accept the change.
"I'm 63 years old, and they've been the Indians since I was aware of them, probably since I was 4 or 5 years old, so it will take a long time,'' he said.
"But we're not asking anybody to give up their memories or the history of the franchise that will always be there. And for people my age and older, most our life is going to be living as an Indian and not as a Guardian.''
The team's colors will remain the same, and the new Guardians logos will incorporate some of the architectural features of the bridge.
In 2018, the Indians stopped wearing the contentious Chief Wahoo logo on their jerseys and caps. However, the team continues to sell merchandise bearing the smiling, red-faced caricature that has drawn protests from Native American groups for decades.
"It is a major step toward righting the wrongs committed against Native peoples and is one step toward justice," said Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director and founder of IllumiNative, a group dedicated to fighting misrepresentations of Native Americans.
The name change has sparked lively debate among the city's passionate sports fans. Other names, including the Spiders, which was used by a now-defunct Cleveland team, were pushed by supporters on social media platforms.
Guardians will be the fifth name in franchise history, joining Blues (1901), Bronchos (1902), Naps (1903-14) and Indians (1915-2021).
The team did not reveal the names of any of the other finalists, but Brian Barren, Cleveland's president of business operations, said trademarking issues eliminated several potential candidates. In the end, the team felt Guardians was a perfect fit.
"We think Guardians is unique and authentic to Cleveland,'' Barren said. "It's less about the Guardians of Traffic and more about what the Guardians represent and that idea of protection. For us and our research, Cleveland folks are very protective of one another.
"They're protective of our city, they're protective of the land and everything about it. That's one key component, the resiliency of people here in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio and the loyalty.''
Cleveland's change comes as the Washington Football Team continues to work toward a similar makeover. Washington recently said it will reveal a new name and logo in 2022.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.