As North America’s ‘core four’ professional sports slowly start to resume following the forced COVID-19 shutdown, a long brewing Native American team name controversy is once again front and centre.
Arguably the worst offender was the National League Football team up until recently known as the Washington Redskins. Earlier this month they finally bowed to public pressure and announced they’d be getting a new name. Years of petitions, boycotts and even a few demonstrations outside the stadium went generally ignored, but the team was forced to act when major sponsors began pulling out for fear of being linked to the team. For now they’ll take the simplistic approach and be referred to as the Washington Football Team for the upcoming season.
It’s almost the exact same story in Edmonton, when the Canadian Football League team formerly known as the Eskimos announced they too would be dropping their name, which has long been an outdated term for a particular group of Native Americans. Their decision to drop the name came just a few weeks after they had decided after a yearlong review of the name, they determined they were comfortable keeping it. Instead, if there is a CFL season this year, they’ll be known as simply the Edmonton Football Team. Presumably something a little catchier and less offensive will be selected for the following campaign.
That leaves Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians as the last professional North American team that proudly sports a name that would otherwise be considered a slur if it were directed towards an actual person of Native heritage. The team has slowly-emphasis on the slowly-taken steps towards adapting a more up to date image, shedding the controversial red faced, smiling caricature with a feather on his head known as Chief Wahoo.
Each aforementioned team had one thing in common, in that they were all founded at least 70 years ago. Their names may have been adopted with the best intentions several decades ago, but the fact is in 2020 they are long past their ‘best before date’ and no longer honour those groups-if they ever even really did. Today they continue to profit from the team’s merchandise and licensing rights while the groups they portray-often in a negative or stereotypical light-see no benefits.
Just how many people find it offensive has long been debated.
A 2016 article in the Washington Post claims nine in 10 Native Americans say they aren’t offended by the Redskins name. The article goes on to refer to those polled as ‘ordinary Indians.’
But there were also several Native leaders who were actively trying to get the name switched to something that doesn’t insult their proud culture. While it’s true most have bigger things to worry about, it’s also a rather easy fix to correct something that’s been long overdue.
Perhaps a more simple way to look whether or not a team name is offensive or not is to look at it like this: if a non-Native person wouldn’t feel comfortable calling a Native person that term to their face, it’s time to get a new name.
It seems teams around North America have finally come to this realization, only about 50 years too late.