Time for a Change: Ab(un)original Team Names


Sports logos and trademarks inspired by Aboriginal or Native American culture have consistently been a topic of debate, but the recent pressure put on the National Football League and Washington Redskins by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has garnered much attention. The ACLM contacted the Metrodome (home of the Minnesota Vikings), and requested stadium officials to avoid using the Washington Redskins name or logo in the November 7 nationally televised game due to its offensive and hurtful nature.

Perhaps the most widely viewed criticism of the Washington Redskins and their trademarks was that of Bob Costas on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football”. Viewed by millions across the country, Costas’ scathing critique was received by some as either a necessary education for much of the audience, or a tired argument in politics that has gotten in the way of the game at hand.

Costas made an important distinction between the handfuls of Native American inspired trademarks versus that of the Washington Redskins; that is, while most serve to honour with names such as the (Atlanta) Braves, (Kansas City) Chiefs, and (Golden State) Warriors, the Washington Redskins have a name rooted in bigotry and racism, used originally to demean its subject. One can easily attribute the equivalent names might we be discussing people of African, Asian, or Hispanic descent. Unfortunately, the combination of a small Native American population and the rest of the country’s generally poor education on Native American history has meant the Washington Redskins name has remained in use – with little threat of being retired – for over 80 years.

One team name that went unnoticed, or at least uncommented on, was that of the Edmonton Eskimos. An obviously Canadian team with a name depicting the Canadian north, America’s Sunday Night Football probably wasn’t the platform to include any potential politics of the Canadian Football League. Upon closer research, maybe it should be included the next time TSN broadcasts a CFL game. Given the recent media attention being attributed to the Washington Redskins, it is surprising the Edmonton Eskimos have gone largely ignored in this debate. A quick Google of the moniker, “Eskimos”, and you will be surprised at how a small bit of research uncovers its derogatory roots. For starters, the term was first used as a name by non-Inuit people meaning “raw meat eaters” to describe northern Aboriginals. Additionally, no Aboriginal group in Canada goes by the term “Eskimos”. In fact, many find it offensive – the acceptable term for northern/arctic Aboriginal people is “Inuit”.

While the Native American population fighting the Washington Redskins is considered small in comparison to the rest of the United States, the northern Aboriginal population must be even smaller compared to the rest of Canada. The lack of attention the Edmonton Eskimos receive for their name likely isn’t an indication of the acceptance of the team name. Rather, it is probably a suggestion that the country’s small Inuit community doesn’t have a powerful enough voice to be heard and Canada (like the United States) has failed in educating its population on the culture and history of our continent’s Aboriginals.

Bob Costas on NBC’s Sunday Night Football: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcuRs6dWzh4

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One Response to Time for a Change: Ab(un)original Team Names

  1. kl10jb says:

    I believe that the Washington Redskins should definitely begin planning a new non-racial name for their NFL team. With Washington DC being the capital of the US, there are many other patriarchal names the organization could easily come up with. As for the other names in the NFL and in particular the Edmonton Eskimos, there really is no racial discrimination to be addressed. The Braves, Eskimos, Chiefs, and Warriors are all hierarchical or patriotic groups of people. There is no derogatory connotation directed towards the names, nor is the meaning behind these teams names meant to dis empower a specific group of people. Eskimos have existed in Canada for as long as the history books tell us, therefore naming a sports team after a historic group would be more of an honour than anything else. As long as there is respect behind the name, I see no problem with it.

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