By Any Other Name
Americans tend to think of themselves as uniquely troubled when it comes to race relations and few cases exemplify this quite like the controversy swirling around the National Football League's Washington Redskins.
Founded in 1932 as the Boston Braves, and playing in Washington as the Redskins since 1937, the team name now stands as a hold out from another era. While many other similar names have been changed in the past few decades, current owner Dan Snyder has repeatedly refused to change the name, despite widespread protests and calls that it is culturally insensitive at best and out right racist at worst.
Some respected reporters, such as Sports Illustrated's Peter King and HBO's Bill Simmons, have even instituted policies to refer to the team as simply "The Washington Professional Football Team" when writing and speaking about them as a small means of protest.
What many Americans may not know, however, is that controversies like this are not unique to the United States.
The Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos name dates back to the early part of the 20th century, when reporters in Edmonton and rival city Calgary would toss gently insulting nicknames for each other back and forth in the press. The name refers to the indigenous people of the Canadian arctic, now more commonly known as Inuit.
Edmonton was also home to a hockey team and a baseball team going under the name Eskimos in the past. Still, many Canadians think it's time for a change. As writer Ben Freeland put it, "The name has nothing do with Edmonton. This is traditional Cree territory. We might as well call ourselves the Edmonton Navajo or the Edmonton Aztecs. It's about as close a connection as that."
Only time will ultimately tell about names like these, but there are more than you might expect. According to fivethirtyeight.com, there are over 2,128 Native American themed mascots in the United States alone. Names like this can have an emotional effect when emblazoned across the front of 54 football uniforms in a packed stadium.
Team names like the Cleveland
Indians may not be as inherently offensive, but their branding has been redesigned in recent years to keep up with modern sensibilities.
This bloggers's alma mater, Indiana University of Pennylsvania, was nicknamed the Indians for many years before changing to the Crimson Hawks in 2005. Our mascot in the later years of the Indians was a bear named Cherokee.
This is an issue that won't be going away any time soon, as sports fans, owners, and managers grapple with the balancing act between appreciating tradition and being welcoming to fans of all backgrounds.