MACLEOD: Time to drop derogatory team names 0
The Nepean Redskins have a nickname that is offensive to native Canadians, claims Ottawa resident Ian Campeau who is campaigning to have the name changed. (File photo)
Team names are supposed to be unifying, not divisive. So it’s puzzling that some school teams and amateur associations insist on sticking with names such as Redskins (or the offshoot Redmen), which have long been outdated to the point of being racist.
And so it may well fall to the Ontario Human Rights Commission to jump into the fray, which is unfortunate, because imposing tastefulness is tricky.
Ian Campeau, an Ojibway of the Nipissing First Nation, is asking the commission to force the Nepean Redskins amateur football club to change its name of 35 years.
The club fields teams at various age levels — players are as young as five. Campeau has filed the complaint on behalf of his daughter, who is five. He feels she shouldn’t be subjected to the Redskins term if she chooses to play.
The Redskins name has been under scrutiny for years, most notably in the National Football League, where the storied Washington Redskins franchise is facing increasing pressure, including a lawsuit, to change its name.
NFL Redskins owner Dan Snyder says the team will never do so, arguing the strength of its tradition. (Though the lyrics to the team’s theme song, Hail to the Redskins, have been changed from the original “scalp ’em, swamp ’em — we will take ’em big score” to “beat ’em, swamp ’em. Touchdown — let the points soar!”)
While the name is clearly offensive to an identifiable group of people, Washington will no doubt fight to the end because the brand is worth a lot — $1.6 billion, the third most valuable franchise in the NFL. How much the Redskins name — adopted in 1933 by the then-Boston Braves, which moved to Washington in 1937 — contributes to that brand value is debatable, but the argument is unconvincing.
There is no such brand value argument at the amateur and school levels. Campeau says the Redskins name is “dehumanizing” and akin to using the N-word. He doesn’t want money, he just wants the name changed and he wants the commission to draft a policy on team names.
To some, this is over-the-top political correctness. It isn’t. Attempts at explaining the Redskins name as an homage to a brave race are futile.
Many teams do adopt Native imagery in their names. The Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, Edmonton Eskimos, Chicago Blackhawks and the Atlanta Braves are examples. But while they identify a race or elements of it, none of these refer to skin colour in a term that has been long recognized as derogatory. Their names, used in context of sports teams, are not themselves racist.
But even then the effort can be lost in translation — for example, when Atlanta Braves fans engage in the awful tomahawk chop. And some teams inexplicably adopt garish logos, such as Cleveland’s Chief Wahoo. When you go down that road, imagery takes on a life of its own. Give some sports fans a chance to go gaudy and they’ll often run with it.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo agrees with Campeau, saying the Redskins term should be banished.
The Nepean Redskins, which uses the same cartoon redface and feather logo as the NFL franchise, argue the team has the support of the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition, which has said the Redskins term wasn’t malicious, but recognizes pride and character of aboriginal peoples.
Clearly, the Redskins name and logo is needlessly divisive. Privately organized teams can opt to continue on like this, but it’s not like there aren’t other good names to choose from that better identify with a community.
It would be unfortunate if the human rights commission had to be the adjudicator. Forcing a group to recognize respect is not as good as them coming to that understanding themselves.