As I watched the Blackhawks game tonight, I was reminded of the conversation going with Native American team names. I can think of 6 teams in the major leagues that use such names; Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, Chicago Blackhawks, and Golden State Warriors.
Now, I can see how some of these names can be seen as racially insensitive. And I agree to that being true of only one team. The Washington Redskins. (and hear me out on this one).
The Blackhawks were named such in order to honor a WWI fighting division named to honor Chief Black Hawk. The Kansas City Chiefs are named for a former mayor of Kansas City whom started a Native American honor society within the Boy Scouts. His nickname for doing so was “The Chief”. Both names have strong, positive ties to their respective communities, and are not named this way in order to throw fire to the wind of any stereotyping. Thus, I feel they are healthy names.
The Atlanta Braves and Golden State Warriors are named from their former homes. Atlanta from Boston via Milwaukee. The Braves were named for a political organisation, named for a Native American chief, and even had a group of elders approve of the logo before using it (in the 1930s…). The Golden State Warriors, originally the Philadelphia Warriors. Not sure WHERE the name actually came from originally, but since moving to California, Golden State has removed any Native American imagery from its logos.
This leaves me with the Cleveland Indians. There is much speculation as to where the team name actually comes from. It could be named for a media nickname the Cleveland Spiders had while Louis Sockalexis played for the team (Sockalexis is regarded as one of the first full blooded Native Americans to play in the major league in 1897). Both fans and media referred to the team as the “Indians”. The Spiders were disbanded in 1899. Cleveland did gain another baseball team, named the Cleveland Lake Shores, before being renamed the Cleveland Blues, Naps, and finally the Indians. Now, there are again, conflicting reports of how the name Indians actually stuck with the team. It wasn’t until the 1914 World Series the team became known colloquially as the Indians, and then officially in 1915. Reports say the owners had asked the media to help find a name to stick, others say it was the fans (in honor of Sockalexis) that came up with the name. Whichever the case, I don’t find the term…offensive.
However, the Washington Redskins are left in this debate. It was said by a writer in the Orlando Sentinel in 1992, the Washington Redskins are the only big time professional sports team whose name is an unequivocal racial slur. After all, how would we react if the team was named the Washington Negroes? Or the Washington Jews?”. And, I do not disagree with the statement. Now, I say this with some bias. Former Redskins QB Mark Rypien is from my hometown, Calgary. He was the first Canadian born QB to play in the NFL, and first foreign born NFL player to be named Superbowl MVP. So, it is by some default I am a closet Redskins fan. If the Indianapolis Colts or Seattle Seahawks aren’t on TV, and the Redskins are, I will root for them. That said. I do agree it is long overdue for a team name change.
Its not unusual for fans to call a team a different name, especially in Washington DC. The Minnesota Twins started life as the Kansas City Blues, whom in 1901 moved to Washington DC and became the Senators. In 1905 officially changed their name to the Washington Nationals. The team was known, by fans, as the Senators until their move to Minnesota in 1961. The Washington Wizards of the NBA are still referred to by their former name Washington Bullets.
And in hockey, the Montreal Canadiens are referred to by any number of names by fans and the media. It is rumored that no matter what the Atlanta Thrashers would be called after moving to Winnipeg in 2011, fans and the media would have referred to the team as the Winnipeg Jets.
So, given this, the Washington Redskins COULD be officially be renamed the Washington Republic (random name chosen by me). Fans would most likely still refer to the team as the Redskins. And so on and so forth.
Of course, my proposal is a compromise.