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Cleveland Indians, other teams feel pressure as Washington Redskins relent on nickname

Philip Yenyo, left, executive director of the American Indians Movement for Ohio, talks with a Cleveland Indians fan before a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers in Cleveland on April 10, 2015. (AP file photo)

CLEVELAND — The spotlight for change is shining on the Cleveland Indians.

Now that the NFL’s Washington Redskins have retired their contentious nickname and logo after decades of objection and amid a nationwide movement calling for racial justice, the Indians appear to be the next major sports franchise that might assume a new identity.

Along with the Indians, who recently announced they are in the early stages of evaluating a name change for the first time in 105 years, the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks and Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs are among those facing backlash along with the potential of sponsors pulling their financial support.

For some, the time has come for widespread changes to sports nicknames, mascots and symbols as the country reckons with its legacy of racism.

“I understand people aren’t willing to change or so quickly, or they’re hoping this moment is going to pass. It’s not,” said activist Frances Danger, who is Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole from Oklahoma. “And now that we’ve gotten what we needed on the Redskins side, we’re going to start working on the rest of them. We’re not going to let up.”

On Monday, Washington announced it was dropping a nickname that had been in place since 1933.

Cleveland’s situation is different from Washington’s on several fronts.

First, the Indians are not feeling heat from any corporate sponsors. At least not publicly.

When the Redskins announced their review earlier this month, the Indians released a statement within hours of Washington’s that said, “we are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.”

The Indians didn’t promise to change their nickname. But it would be hard to imagine them going through a detailed evaluation and deciding to stick with a nickname that Native American groups have condemned for years as degrading and racist.

Cleveland showed a willingness to rebrand itself when it pulled the highly debated Chief Wahoo logo off its game jerseys and caps. While the red-faced, toothy caricature remains a presence on some team merchandise, its reduced status and removal from the diamond and signage around Progressive Field was applauded as a positive step.

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