When a Name Taints the Game

December 10, 2015

Uncategorized

By Brianna Meyer – Thompson Rivers University JD Student

Whether it is the NHL, CFL or beyond – few things in this world can rival the energy that radiates throughout athletic stadiums as fans cheer. Thousands of people of all ages stand united under a single umbrella of passion to push their teams hopefully through the next period, quarter or inning. Faces are painted, jerseys are adorned and the chants are deafening. Go Blackhawks. Go Eskimos. Go Redskins.

For some, however, a darker meaning lurks behind these cheers. For Ottawa native Ian Campeau, an Anishnabe (Ojibway) of the Nipissing First Nation, the use of symbols and imagery associated with his Indigenous heritage by both amateur and professional sports teams is viewed as disrespectful to his culture and a catalyst to breeding racism in a public arena. He argues that “[racist team names] are the most in-your-face socially acceptable systemic oppression within our society and yet it’s used by children’s football teams. It’s not even a gateway drug for racism, it is racism.”

Campeau has attained some success at a local level – where he has convinced grassroots teams to change their names. He admits, however, that convincing professional franchises such as the Edmonton Eskimos to follow suit is an entirely different battle. Turning to our American neighbours, a similar gap exists between amateur and professional sports team support. The National Congress of American Indians stated in 2013 that tribal advocates have obtained some success in eliminating over two-thirds of derogatory Indian sports mascots and logos over the past 50 years.

In 2005, the American Psychological Association addressed this issue by recommending “the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations…. Research has shown that [it] has a negative effect on not only American Indian students but all students.”

This call to action was picked up sportswear giant Adidas last month. Adidas announced that it would offer free design resources and financial assistance to any high school that wants to change their logo or mascot from Native American imagery or symbolism. Approximately 2000 high schools in the United States continue to use names that “cause concern for many tribal communities.”

Before we rebrand consumer loyalty from Nike to Adidas however, it begs mentioning that Adidas is still making hundreds of millions of dollars selling uniforms to the Chicago Blackhawks, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians and the list goes on. This hypocrisy has not gone undetected by critics of name changes at the professional level. The power of shareholders, team fans or partner organizations to resist such change is still an ongoing issue.

Straight from the mouth of Adidas – “sports have the power to change lives. Young athletes have hope, they have desire and they will have a will to win. Importantly, sports must be inclusive. Today we are harnessing the influence of sports in our culture to lead change to our communities.”

Are double standards for schools and professional teams a way to facilitate this inclusion? Is it a necessary compromise? Should we ever compromise on issues as systemic as racism?

These questions remain unanswered but this issue will not disappear until the offensive names do. Like Adidas says, “sports have the power to change lives.” It is up to us to decide that when the game ends, when the cheers are silent, when we all go home – if that change is ultimately for the better.

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