By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. July 3, 2014
North American sporting heritage has always found inspiration in the indigenous people. It makes sense. After all, they are proud people who essentially lost everything during colonialism—so why not give them some consolation by rooting for them in athletic endeavours? What perhaps began as an attempt to pay homage to noble aboriginals now looks a lot like racism, and who can blame them for being angry? While some names are vague (e.g. Chief, Braves, Warriors), others are blunt and offensive (e.g. Indians, Eskimos).
So what should be considered racism in the realm of team names?
Pass: Seattle Seahawks
Far from creative brilliance, the Seattle Seahawks have done an excellent job with naming their team, by paying tribute to both the native culture and the geographical splendour of the West Coast. It does not label or condemn a class of people; instead, it’s unique.
Those who have seen the Seahawks logo will know that it’s native art with a bit of modern flair. To address my point, I shall use an example: the Chicago Blackhawks—the hockey team, which many believe has the most beautiful jersey in the sport—is based off of an American army division during World War I. The logo itself is a native man’s head, inspired by the Sauk and Fox aboriginal leader for whom the army division was named. I don’t understand why it has such acclaim and prestige. It’s a downright offensive logo that mocks a group of people who had their identity stolen from them.
The Seahawks, on the other hand, stems from fiction, even though it’s rooted in tradition—and that is how a quality team name should find its characteristics. It should take on a form of its own. It should be organic, not superimposed.
Fail: Washington Redskins
Few sport teams are as blatantly racist as the Washington Redskins. Sure, if there were teams that were called the Yellowskins, the Blackskins, the Brownskins, the Whiteskins, the Squintyeyes, the Biglips, the Longnose, etc. then there wouldn’t be a problem. We have already marked the line, and to continue singling out natives—even though the whole concept of “redskin” is a racist classification—is a great disservice to our liberating society and the whole concept of team unity that is nurtured by sports.
Ask a native person, and they would likely be hesitant about saying that their skin is actually red. Yet the Redskins’ logo is so clearly one of an aboriginal man, not unlike the Blackhawks’. Ask a native person, and they would be hesitant to say that these representations are actually natives. Nevertheless, you look at the logo for the Cleveland Indians and you will see a happy cartoon native face. If you don’t feel shame for cheering for those teams, it’s probably because you are a sports fanatic and you are blinded by your pride, but in reality, you are not native and you have been brainwashed to oppress a whole race of people.
Some might say that it is an honour to have a sports team named after them, but that’s not their name. No other race of people is presented in such a demeaning fashion. To boo the Redskins may be to boo their poor defensive play, but subliminally it’s also booing a group of people not even involved in the game.
Native Americans have been asking the Redskins franchise to change their names for decades now, and it seems their argument is valid. They are offended. They have asked nicely. They have asked not so nicely. Yet nothing has changed yet. If it wasn’t an insult before, it sure is now.