On Monday night, the Chicago Blackhawks succeeded in bringing home the 2013 Stanley Cup, defeating the Boston Bruins. And though the game six win was hard won, the Blackhawks hockey history (and foreseeable future) is still marred by the racist past of sport logos, names, and mascots.
Back in the 2010 Stanley Cup potential for the Hawks, the question of the racist nature of the name, emblem, and mascot of the team was once again renewed. Damien Cox wrote a critical review of the continued racist nature of the team in the Star. According to Cox, the origin of the name comes from team founder Frederic McLaughlin who named the team to honor his World War I battalion after Chief Black Hawk (of Saux Nation).
The age-old argument to change names and logos is not new. The NCAA in 2005 declared the act of utilizing sports team aboriginal imagery offensive. Cox laments of the situation, "hockey fans, of course, being overwhelmingly male and white, hate these kinds of discussions. Political correctness, they howl."
The problem with decrying political correctness as a reason to throwout a legitimate discussion of racism is that it claims the racism is frivolous, that it is not worth upsetting the fandom or the team dynamic. The suggestion that the racism is not worth arguing against is a claim that it has no real negative impact in our world, that it is not worth bothering about in light of other issues. In response to this apathy Loring Danforth of Bates College writes, "to put it bluntly, these logos reduce Native Americans to savages, to defeated enemies who have been “erased” from today’s world".
The objectification, commodification, and logo-ization of a group of people (a very real, live, and living people) is cause enough for change. The continuation of racist stereotypes of Native Americans based on these logos is reason enough for change. The majority of sports team logos and names center around animals, much like the Boston Bruins (bears). When you slap a stereotypical image of a Native American on a jersey you are equating them to these nameless, carbon-copy animals that populate other team's locker rooms. They are no longer a people with agency, history, and future like anyone else, they are a thing to be harnessed however the individual in charge decides.
Some have made the argument that tribe payments from teams alleviates all worries of racism. I argue that that is a largely pornographic relationship. The Chicago Blackhawks have indeed made the American Indian Center of Chicago a grantee of their team, describing the partnership on their website. Joe Podlasek, the executive director of the American Indian Center of Chicago has praised this connection saying, "(The Hawks) are far and away ahead of everyone else in forward-thinking. What they have done is engaged the community. In the other cities (organizations) want nothing to do with native people but yet they’re trying to say they respect us."
Money and a "community partnership" can ease the mind of the wary fan wanting to wear a jersey to games, but it cannot mitigate the fact that the audience at large will still be on the receiving end of an objectification of a people and that future children will grow up with that same negative exposure of what it means to be Native American. In a stereotypical pornographic relationship, the Blackhawks are paying out the American Indian Center in hopes that it will mollify the ickiness of it all. In fact, it should point to their wrongdoing.
Isn't it time that instead of paying lip service to a tribe with money, the Blackhawks, and other teams still holding out, just make the change? Isn't it time they commit to being anti-racist in their sport? If they're good at what they do they won't lose their fans. And if they do the right thing, they might even gain some fans on game day who will be proud to wear a jersey that does not cooperate in the stereotyping, oppression, and objectification of individual human beings.