What’s In a Cleveland Name?

“What’s in a name?’’

Ol’ Will Shakespeare asked that question a couple of centuries ago when he was writing “Romeo and Juliet,’’ and then offered an answer.

“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’’

Sounds simple enough.

But in the politically correct times in which we live, everything becomes much more complicated than that. And, so after years of hand-wringing, the Washington Redskins decided to abandon their Indian image and now call themselves the Washington Football Team, or WFT for short.

The Cleveland Indians got the message and announced they are leaving their Native American nickname as well and will be re-branded in the next year or so. Previously, the Indians dumped the cartoonish Chief Wahoo logo that depicted a very happy Indian.

That leaves the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, Golden State Warriors and Chicago Blackhawks to get with the program. None of them seem anxious to move on.

There was a time when the Braves were a bit over the top with their Indian business. Until 1986, they used Levi Walker, a real Indian, to play Chief Nok-A-Homa. Dressed in full Native American costume complete with war bonnet, the Chief would do a pre-game dance on the pitcher’s mound and then head out to left field to watch the game from his teepee in the bleachers. He would celebrate Braves home runs by setting off a smoke bomb and doing a victory dance.

For this, Levi Walker earned $60 per game.

The fans would add to the festivities with a group tomahawk chop, a tradition they still maintain, when they are allowed in the stadium. COVID restrictions have limited that routine.

The tomahawk chop is a favorite elsewhere, as well. It shows up in Kansas City where Chiefs fans also beat drums, chant battle cries and cheer for the team’s mascot horse named Warpaint, who patrols the sidelines.

The Braves fans co-opted the tomahawk chop from the Florida State Seminoles, whose fans chopped gleefully for the home team. COVID restrictions limited capacity to about 20 percent this season but the chop survived.

The Seminoles’ mascot is Osceola, leader of the Seminole tribe, who is played by a student in full tribal gear. He arrives on the field before each game riding a stallion and drives a flaming spear into the turf before galloping off.


All this is in the name of sport. Maybe it’s time for another name. Certainly the Cleveland baseball team thinks so.

Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire


About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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