Column like I see 'em - Anyone bother to ask the culture in question on how to respect the culture?


By Eoin Devereux

Neepawa Banner & Press

Alright, who’s ready to have an uncomfortable conversation about cultural representation in sports?…Anyone?…Hello, where did everybody go?

Okay, maybe that’s not the right tact to start this off, so let me try again, because this feels like one of those topics where I should be very careful on how I approach it. A basic question to begin: What do the Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, Edmonton Eskimos, Chicago Blackhawks and Neepawa Natives all have in common? Well, the most recent correct answer to that question would be that they’ve all had the phrase “Change your name” retweeted towards them online.

Never say NEVER

For those of you outside of the social media bubble and quite honestly, you are the people I envy the most now, all this began with the NFL’s Washington Redskins. The franchise is once again facing intense public scrutiny on their name, which is considered a racial slur in dictionary entries. But this time, it appears as though change is on the horizon, as FedEx asked the team to reconsider the moniker, with investors from Nike and PepsiCo quickly following suit. Last week, 87 shareholders representing $620 billion in assets wrote a letter asking those companies to cut ties with the team if it didn’t change the name. As well, by Monday, July 6, Nike, Walmart and Target had all removed the team’s merchandise from their websites. With pressure intensifying, team owner Dan Snyder released a statement, saying that they would be conducting a “thorough review” of the name. That’s a complete 180 compared to a quote from Snyder back in 2013, stating that “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.”  Well now, isn’t it just amazing how quickly you can find your social conscience once it starts impacting your cash flow.

Only one way to know for sure

But along with the Washington Redskins Potatoes, many other teams with a name or logo affiliated with First Nations’ culture seem to have been bombarded with intense reactions on both sides of the argument. For the sake of your sanity, don’t dive into any of this online debate, it’ll just make you feel very tired.

I, like everyone else it seems, have a pretty entrenched opinion on this subject. But, unlike every current keyboard “deplorable” and “snowflake” out there, I won’t be sharing it with you today, because it doesn’t matter. Due to my ethnic heritage, I probably only have a free pass to share my opinion on exactly two teams; the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and the Boston Celtics. As it now stands, neither one offends me. If they were to change to the “Drunken Irish of Notre Dame” or the “Boston Paleskins”, then I have some problems with the whole thing, but at this time, we’re all good.

Don’t get me wrong, while I can still chime in on this particular topic if I want to, I’m not the cultural demographic that needs to be heard at this moment. In all the online back and forth, only once or twice have I seen anyone suggest that we check in with First Nation, Inuit and Métis and see what they think on all this hubbub.

Do you know what Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, Edmonton Eskimos, Chicago Blackhawks and Neepawa Natives should all have in common? They should all be ramping up their engagement with their nearest First Nations communities. With the exception of the Florida State Seminoles, who have actually built a 70 year working relationship with the Seminole Tribe, where is the current and ongoing consultation from any of these teams? Because what was all good and you had permission to do 75,25 or even five years ago, might not fly now, so perhaps it’s best to have an updated conversation with the parties that the teams are claiming to honour. The best way to know that you are doing the right thing is to ask the people you’re trying to do right by.

Who knows, you might surprised by the response. I’ve seen First Nations people wearing Chicago Blackhawks t-shirts and Washington Redskins hats. In fact, I once did an interview with a notable representative of Manitoba’s Métis community as he wore a Chief Wahoo baseball cap. I was not expecting that, and quite honestly, what right would I have had to say to that man of Métis heritage that his cap is problematic?

The only way to know right now is to ask, “Are we good?” If those community leaders say “Yeah, we’re all good”, then fantastic! Sports racism has been solved! But if the answer is a non-consensus, or an outright no, well then it’s time for that uncomfortable conversation we talked about earlier.

Disclaimer: Column like I see ‘em is a monthly opinion column for the Neepawa Banner & Press. The views expressed in the article are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Neepawa Banner & Press.