What’s in a Name?

Today, after much controversy the Cleveland Indians baseball franchise is officially changing their name to the Cleveland Guardians. I have been a fan of this team since the late ’80’s and ridden the highs and lows that come with cheering on any Cleveland franchise. While I will admit I am more excited than sad about the name change, the decision has been made and I do not feel a need to comment here about The appropriateness of the decision. Rather, this post is the result of a video a friend of mine created around all of the negative comments about the name change. As I heard all the hatred and insults leveled at the team I was taken back to my childhood, not baseball but moving away from my childhood home. Moving was a traumatizing time for me, because everything in my life was in motion. What I wanted and needed was something stable in my life, something that was not in flux. Yet part of the difficulty was that I could not find much that was consistent, even little things like being surrounded by Pirates fans instead of Tribe fans hurt. Over the last few months, I have watched people overreact to the announcement about Cleveland baseball, and my thought is, “how many of these people are going through what I went through?” I know many people who certainly feel that life is out of control, and that feeling has only been amplified over the last couple of years. I also know that institutions like sports franchises help people to feel grounded in times of stress, so what happens when that is in flux?

The Cleveland Guardians name change represents a different level of stress for many people. This change, for some, magnifies the feeling that they are losing ground in the transition of culture. This institution that has brought them comfort for so many years now represents a transition away from what they knew as home. And for many fans the name change is a startling reminder of how little control they have over their own world. I think this is especially true of a city like Cleveland, where every documentary seems to point out the heartbreak, pain, and loss the area has endured over the past few decades. So I wonder, is it really the name change alone that is causing the pain?

It seems like many people are lashing out at the name change because it is a tangible target in a world of chaos. Such a reaction would be reasonable, but I would hope that anyone having this reaction would let these feelings lead to genuine reflection. Not that I think everyone should get on board with the Cleveland Guardians, though that would be nice. No, but I do hope that people would stop to consider why they are lashing out in such a way about the change in a professional sports team’s name. Does the name really matter, or is it touching a deeper issue within the person?

For myself, as a fan who does not mind the name change, I have tried hard not to engage people in an excessively negative way. I have tried to understand what could be motivating harsh or negative reactions. For those who are hurting the only advice I can give is to try to find a connection to what you found important about the team. I doubt that connection was the brand name Indians, rather I think it was the game of baseball or the community. I recognize that this is not easy, it took me years to feel at home in my new surroundings when I moved. My point is not to try to move people to healing in a day, rather to help them identify what the cause of the hurt is so that they can begin to look for healing. Because baseball like all sports is meant to be a light-hearted pastime that brings people into community and provides us with a diversion from the difficulties in the world. There may be some fans who in this time of transition recognize that they have put too much of their identity into the game of baseball and need to step away. That is commendable. But I think for the overwhelming majority of those hurt by this change, they simply need an avenue to vent to grapple with the chaos in their lives and to reconnect to a community. And I hope that is what happens. I also hope that people who perhaps have read this without a vested interest in the Cleveland Guardians will understand how the chaos and hurts in other areas of their lives might be affecting them.

For those who might want a positive avenue to connect with everything I’ve said check out the Cleveland Guardians Fancast. It is a light-hearted and informative look at Cleveland baseball. But what I like most about it is the intentional effort to connect the game to the community and family fun.

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