Changing the Names of Sports Teams - A Lesson in Critical Thinking

October 4, 2014 - 9:49am

A fine young man, who is passionate about sport and is no doubt a promising sports coach, asked me if I could work on an article on certain schools in Saskatchewan changing the names of their sports teams. This is an issue that extends to sports teams around North America changing their names and logos because of their allegedly racist and offensive content pertaining to Native American and Aboriginal culture. Particular attention has been given to professional-level sports teams, such as the Washington ‘Redskins’, Cleveland ‘Indians’, Kansas City ‘Chiefs’, and Chicago ‘Blackhawks’, but the problem is even more expansive when we consider the number of questionable team names at the non- or semi-professional levels, and in schools and universities.

Many people are upset about name changes and use the following reasons against changing names:

  1. It dismantles the history and memories these teams are associated with, and the memorabilia that characterize these teams.
  2. It’s the pride of wearing that jersey that represented bravery and toughness.
  3. Think of all that money that will have to be ploughed into changing the outfits, memorabilia, and trademarks of the teams.  
  4. This is a small issue and we need to focus on larger issues affecting Aboriginal/Native American peoples.
  5.  Aboriginal symbols are used is to show respect for indigenous peoples.
  6. Indigenous and non-indigenous people who want the names/logos changed are overly sensitive. 

We need to look into this issue within a broader context of justice. It is a learning opportunity to look deeper into the history of Aboriginal and Native American people in North America.  Since first contact, indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States were, and continue to be, morally and politically subordinated to colonizers and settler colonialists.

In the light of this, it is clear that symbols and representations of Native American and Aboriginal cultures are being claimed and used in ways that diminish their dignity. In addition, inaccurate and stereotypical portrayals of people’s identities show disrespect toward people in these groups. It demonstrates a willful ignorance to learn about and genuinely appreciate what is means to be a member of these groups, and issues of indigeneity.  Mascots essentially function as court jesters or clowns.

When branded for the purposes of marketing, consumption and entertainment, Native American/ Aboriginal peoples are reduced to simplistic (and oftentimes cartoonish) images and names.

Indigenous peoples should have the right to take ownership of their own identities. Instead of denying Aboriginal/Native American peoples the opportunities and rights to define themselves in relation to their social groups, we ought to expand the world of possibilities for them to be and live their lives in a way that allows for genuine appreciation of one’s culture.

At least two things are clear. 

First, we need to listen to those who are directly affected by the issue, more so than those who carry privilege and have a vested interest (be it economic, financial, and/or political) in the promulgation of racism. 

Second, we have to stand together on this issue, in support of anti-racist, anti-oppressive acts and legislation. 

Team names or logos that appropriate or use Native American or Aboriginal imagery or content must be changed. 

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