With the stir created by the Washington Football Team dropping the name Redskins after 80 years in the National Football League, other pro sports teams began to take a hard look at their nicknames. The Cleveland Indians were next to abandon their name and logo after more than 100 years in the American League. How far these changes will go is anyone’s guess. Still, such pro franchises as the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, and college teams that include the Florida State Seminoles are debating whether they need to make a name and logo change. The same goes for the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League, as well as two NHL teams now under the microscope.
A split decision over the Canucks’ logo
The National Hockey League has been in the background of all the commotion but now faces backlash related to the logo of the Vancouver Canucks. Developed in 1997, it features a Haida-style orca whale with a determined look on its face. It breaks out of a block of ice in the bottom part of the design, which creates the letter “C” for Canucks.
Considering other pro sports teams awakening to the negative connotation of their nicknames and logos, the Vancouver hockey team has been challenged on two counts related to its use of a Native American symbol on their uniforms.
The team is accused of appropriating and profiting from a symbol of an indigenous culture without permission. Also, the original 23-year-old design was not created by an indigenous person.
“How can you continue to develop meaningful relations with Coast Salish nations when you continue to profit from branding that is appropriating their art style?” University of Manitoba professor of indigenous studies Sean Carleton said, according to Vancouver CityNews.
Canucks goalie Braden Holtby felt pressure from indigenous groups after putting the First Nationals Orca symbol on his goalie mask, the NHL website reported. He later apologized and commissioned an image from a Native American artist to replace it.
Things got more complicated related to the Canucks logo when the team mistakenly sent out a statement indicating that it was working directly with the Squamish Nation. The indigenous group denied such conversations took place. The team, league, and Western Canada’s various indigenous groups have until January 13, 2021 — the start of the NHL season — to work out their issues.
The Chicago Blackhawks are another NHL team in the crosshairs
Despite the blowback from other teams that changed their names due to public pressure, the Chicago Blackhawks, a 94-year-old NHL franchise, have no plans to follow the trend.
The team says the name and image honors an important Native American, and it believes any criticism is unfounded.
“The Chicago Blackhawks’ name and logo symbolize an important and historical person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac and Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans, and the public,” the team said in a statement, per CNN. “We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions, and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform and our work with these important organizations.”
Critics, such as Ken Campbell of Sports Illustrated, believe the NHL is hypocritical in its social activism strategy. On the one hand, the league halted play to pay tribute to Jacob Blake’s shooting in August but refuses to take a stand on the Blackhawk’s name and logo.
“Either you embrace your racism and cultural appropriation, or you don’t,” Campbell wrote. “What the NHL and the Blackhawks are doing when they try to pull these sleights-of-hand is the worst way to go. Saying out of one side of your mouth that you’re socially progressive, then declaring out the other side that when it comes to making money, you’re perfectly OK to appropriate Native American imagery for the sake of entertainment and revenues.”
The birth of the Stanford Cardinal
In 1930, the board of regents at Stanford University decided on the name “Indians” for the school’s sports teams. At the time, there was no controversy or backlash over the name.
Some 40 years later, Native American groups began a campaign to force Stanford to change its nickname, objecting to the name and the logo, which featured an Indian with a large nose. It took two years of persuasion, but in 1972, Stanford dropped the offensive reference to Native American culture.
The school’s teams became “The Cardinal,” which it still uses today. There have been periodic efforts to bring back the Indians nickname with no significant support. The student body did try and push the nickname “Robber Barons,” but that failed miserably.
Other colleges and universities, including Marquette, St. John’s, Syracuse, and Miami (Ohio), switched from Native American nicknames years ago.