What's in a Name?

July 7, 2020

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This is a picture I took at the National Baseball Hall of Fame a few years back. It is the jersey Frank Robinson wore in his debut as baseball's first African-American manager. And the reflection is me remembering what it was like to be 12-years-old and watch him hit a home run to lead Cleveland to an opening day win. (He was a player-manager that year.)

I was a huge baseball fan as a kid, and the Cleveland Indians were my first home town team. I associate the team with some of my favorite childhood memories. I still have Indians memorabilia that brings back those memories -- both my own memories and memories of my father talking about some really great Cleveland teams he watched in his youth.

It never occurred to me the name "Indians" might be offensive. In fact, I never even thought about Native Americans. It was just the name of a baseball team to me.

Now that I'm an adult, I can see the name might be offensive. I can see the need for change, and the need to respect other cultures by not turning them into mascots.

And do you know what? If they aren't the Indians any more, that doesn't change any of my childhood memories. It doesn't change my father talking about how Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Mike Garcia pitched the Indians to a league record 111 wins in 1954, or the heartbreak of Willie Mays' legendary over-the-shoulder catch that helped deny Cleveland a World Series title that year.

It doesn't change my memories of Gaylord Perry spitballing his way to the Cy Young Award or Frank Robinson hitting that home run. It doesn't take away afternoons spent at the ballpark with family and friends. It doesn't take away staying up late at night listening to Joe Tait and Herb Score call West Coast games on the radio. It doesn't take away opening packs of baseball cards hoping to get some of my hometown heroes, even though the Indians of my youth were never pennant contenders.

What it does change is, from this year forward or next year forward, another young boy will form memories of a Cleveland team with a different name, but baseball will be the same. The memories will be the same. The feelings will be the same. Nothing will be cancelled. Nothing will be erased.

Nothing will be diminished. Well, maybe one thing will be diminished -- the lack of sensitivity shown when we ignore what something means to others just because it doesn't mean the same thing to us.

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