Time for the Eskimos to change their name
In the lead up for a football game this past weekend, a battle over political correctness broke out.
The debate occurred prior to the start of the CFL’s Western Semifinal between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Edmonton Eskimos. Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, a Métis privacy lawyer who has made reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples a political priority for city hall was asked about the Edmonton team’s name. He responded with “I think there’s an opportunity to have a more inclusive name. That’s obviously a decision for the team and I will ultimately respect that.”
With the public reaction he received, one would have thought he called the club every dirty name in the book.
What about Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, certainly he will back the hometown Green and Gold? Nope, not at all. It took him a day to respond to requests to comment from the media, but even he urged the football club to consider Bowman’s comments, saying it “is difficult to not give serious weight to that feedback.”
The Eskimos released a statement basically saying no name change is immanent but they’re at least open to a conversation.
“We are keenly listening to all input including from our loyal season seat holders and fans,” said the statement. “We use the Edmonton Eskimos name with pride and respect. If the mayor of Winnipeg has an opinion he’d like to share with us, he should do so.”
To be blunt, Bowman already shared his opinion with you, albeit publicly.
The problem is when you say things like you use the term Eskimos with “pride and respect.”
What pride and what respect is there in a name that is widely considered derogatory and racist?
I grew up on Eskimos football, I still follow the team closely, and while I am not ashamed of the team or embarrassed by them, in this day and age it is time to look at ways to move forward.
Doing so does nothing to tarnish the team, its history, and how they have been ambassadors for the City of Edmonton and Alberta as a whole since 1949. They have done great things in, and for, the community.
To be clear, I know there has been no ill intent with the use of the name.
But it is time to evolve.
It is a situation that a number of professional sports teams have found themselves in over the last couple of decades and, in most of those situations, the debate has become ugly as owners have dug in. The Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians are the biggest offenders of this. I have written about Douglas Cardinal’s human rights complaint about the use of the name of Cleveland's baseball team and logo in Canada in the past. They are far from the only ones as there is a long list of sporting organizations that use similar monikers to represent their teams.
The usual arguments are that it is tradition and they are honouring these groups. However, if you are going to take tradition into account, how about looking at the tradition and the history that comes with those names and the oppression, abuse and genocide that resulted. If you want to honour them, talk with local indigenous bands about how you can pay tribute to them and not just profit by using a mocking caricature of their identity.
The NCAA has banned names that exploit indigenous culture unless agreements are worked out with local groups, as in the case of the Florida State Seminoles.
The Edmonton Eskimos are a community owned group. There is no Dan Snyder to single out and be angry at. As such, they hold a higher responsibility to the community they represent, which stretches from Red Deer to the northern reaches of Alberta.
Changing a name does not have to be a painful exercise.
Teams changed names regularly in the early 1900s. In 1997 the Washington Bullets became the Washington Wizards, in 2006 the Anaheim Mighty Ducks simply became the Ducks, while the Tennessee Oilers turned in their derricks to become the Titans in 1999. None of these franchises suffered because of it. In fact rebranding is an opportunity to sharpen a team’s image and cash in on new merchandise.
I can guarantee no one will suffer because the Eskimos change their name. However, there is no good that can come from the continued normalization of racist or offensive terminology.
This is not white guilt speaking or political correctness run amuck. It is just time.