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Mike Ervin: Why Cleveland’s new team name should spur protests

To us, the word “guardian” has been dubious for decades because many of us have been screwed over bad by guardians. In every state, there are laws where a judge can declare disabled people incapable of making their own decisions and appoint a guardian to run their lives.

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Mike Ervin is a writer and disability rights activist living in Chicago. (Courtesy of Mike Ervin/TNS)

The owners of the Major League Baseball team in Cleveland, Ohio, have announced that the name of the team will be changed from the Indians to the Guardians, beginning next season.

The stated reason for choosing that name is that it’s a tribute to the iconic, 43-foot tall “Guardians of Traffic” statues on Cleveland’s Hope Memorial Bridge.

But I have a feeling that name was also appealing to the owners because they’re punch-drunk from protests and thus were looking for something completely uncontroversial. And maybe they figured that no one could possibly have beef with the name “Guardians.” Everybody agrees that guardians are steadfastly benevolent forces that watch over and protect us all, like guardian angels. Guardians always have everyone’s best interest at heart. You can always trust a guardian.

But I think that the name “Guardians” presents an interesting opportunity for disabled folks like me to protest. To us, the word “guardian” has been dubious for decades because many of us have been screwed over bad by guardians. In every state, there are laws where a judge can declare disabled people incapable of making their own decisions and appoint a guardian to run their lives.

This essentially means that disabled people have their freedom taken away, maybe even for their whole lives. They can’t spend money, move into different housing, or do much of anything else in life without their overseer signing off on it. And there have been all kinds of horror stories of disabled people being bullied around by their guardians as a result.

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All of the attention that has been generated by Britney Spears’s legal battle to be freed from her oppressive conservatorship has illuminated how horrendously abusive this arrangement can often be. People are protesting on her behalf, demanding that she be set free.

But her plight is neither new nor unique. The website of the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse contains many hair-raising accounts of people who aren’t famous but have been similarly exploited and dominated by their guardians. One of the association’s stated goals is to “protect the civil/human rights—life, liberty, and property—of adults described as ‘incompetent’ and made wards of the state in unlawful and abusive guardianships and conservatorship.”

When Spears’s case is resolved, for better or worse, will the protesters cross out her name on their FREE BRITNEY signs, write in the name of another victim and get back out there?

I’m guessing that won’t happen. The outrage will probably wane. Something else will have to be done to keep this important issue hot. Maybe picketing the Guardians’ games beginning next season to blow the whistle on the false glorification of the word guardians will do the trick.

So thank you to the owners of the Cleveland baseball franchise for opening up this new front for potential protests. The timing is perfect.

Mike Ervin is a writer and disability rights activist living in Chicago. This column was produced for The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.

©2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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