Sports·The Buzzer

Indigenous team names are under fire again — but this time feels different

Wednesday's edition of CBC Sports' daily newsletter, The Buzzer, features the pressure on pro sports teams with Indigenous nicknames, plus an updated curling schedule and a buggy beginning to the WNBA's restart.
Cleveland's baseball team has signalled it's ready for a name change. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

Another team is considering a name change

The Edmonton Eskimos announced today that they're revisiting their name. This came the day after a major sponsor threatened to end its relationship with the CFL team unless it makes "a commitment to a name change." Also last night, the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks released a statement defending their team name and logo.

Calls for sports teams to drop their Indigenous nicknames, logos and mascots on the grounds that they're offensive aren't new. In 1972, Stanford University switched from Indians to Cardinal (the primary colour of its teams' uniforms) after students protested the original name. Since then, several universities, colleges and high schools in North America have made similar moves. A recent example is Montreal's McGill University, which dumped its near-century-old Redmen nickname last year under pressure from students, staff and faculty.

Pro teams have traditionally been more resistant to name changes. Baseball's Cleveland Indians dropped their controversial caricature "Chief Wahoo" logo a couple of years ago, but decided at the time to keep their name. Most notoriously, the NFL's Washington Redskins have largely ignored decades' worth of criticism of their name and logo.

Times are changing, though. The wave of protests against anti-Black racism in the United States has put all forms of discrimination under a spotlight. And with seemingly every team, league and brand in the world having now released a statement trumpeting its support for inclusiveness, it's become a lot harder for them to sidestep the freshly-emboldened voices speaking out against team names they consider offensive.

Last Friday might go down as the turning point. That's when the Washington NFL team, under public pressure from the title sponsor of its stadium, announced it would undertake a "thorough review" of its name. That's extremely non-committal, sure, but still a pretty big development given owner Daniel Snyder's defiant stance against previous calls to change the name. That same day, the Cleveland Indians also announced they would reconsider their name. Interestingly, Cleveland manager Terry Francona and Washington head coach Ron Rivera both quickly expressed support for a switch. Both guys are old-school lifers in their sport who aren't known for rocking the boat. So this signalled that a name change is likely coming for both teams.

But not every team with an Indigenous name seems ready to move on. Baseball's Atlanta Braves put out a statement Saturday saying the team "honours, supports, and values the Native American community" and has consulted with "various" tribes about its use of Indigenous iconography. The team did not say whether it would continue to encourage fans to perform the problematic tomahawk chop/chant combination during games (a moot point for now, with fans not allowed in the stadium).

The Chicago Blackhawks took a similar stance to Atlanta's in last night's statement, arguing that their name and logo is a tribute to a specific historical figure — Black Hawk of Illinois' Sac and Fox Nation. The team promised to "evolve" but insisted that it offers "reverent examples of Native American culture" and maintains a "genuine dialogue" with Indigenous groups.

The Edmonton Eskimos appear to be somewhere in the middle at the moment. Last Friday, when seemingly every team with an Indigenous name was being pressed in the wake of the Washington football team's announcement, Edmonton stood firm. The team released a statement reminding everyone of its announcement months ago that it had conducted an "extensive research and engagement program with Canada's Inuit community" and found "no consensus" for a name change. The chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation told CBC News that the IRC is "supportive" of the team name "as long as it is used in a respectful manner," though he acknowledged that "not all Inuit will agree with the use of this term."

The Edmonton team vowed last Friday to "ramp up our engagement with the Inuit communities to assess their views." Today it went a step further, saying it's "accelerating our ongoing process of review," with an additional promise to provide an "update" by the end of the month. That may buy them some time, but things are happening fast.

The NHL's Chicago team stood by their name on Tuesday after the NFL's Washington team and MLB's Cleveland squad announced inquiries into their own nicknames. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Quickly...

Curling's Grand Slam season got cut to a fraction of its usual size. One third, to be exact. Only two of the six events planned for the 2020-21 season will take place. And instead of starting in October, the first Slam won't be until the April 13-18 Players' Championship in Toronto, followed by the April 27-May 2 Champions Cup in Olds, Alta. A January stop in Las Vegas, which was going to be the first Slam ever held in the U.S., was among the four cancelled events. An executive with Sportsnet, which owns and operates the Slams, said the company considered holding them without spectators but decided against it. Read more about the shortening of the Slam season here.

The Ryder Cup was postponed until next year. Golf's biennial United States vs. Europe team competition was scheduled for Sept. 25-27 at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. But organizers decided to move it to that same slot in 2021, citing a lack of desire to hold the event without the unusually (for golf) rowdy crowds that give it much of its flavour. Another factor may have been that, under golf's reconfigured 2020 schedule, the Ryder Cup would have started only five days after the final round of the U.S. Open. In any case, the Ryder Cup is back to being held in odd-number years, which was the case before the 9/11 attacks caused the 2001 edition to be postponed. Italy will host in 2023. Read more about the postponement of this year's event here.

A two-time snowboard world champion is dead at 32. Alex Pullin won back-to-back men's snowboard cross world titles in 2011 and '13, and was Australia's flag-bearer at the 2014 Winter Olympics. He drowned yesterday while free diving (that means with no breathing equipment) and spearfishing on an artificial reef off Australia's Gold Coast, according to police. Read more about Pullin and his death here.

There's a lot bugging (literally) WNBA players right now. They arrived yesterday at their "bubble" in Bradenton, Fla., to begin preparing for a shortened 22-game season that will start later this month. But their accommodations at the IMG Academy — a sports-training/prep school facility owned by the massive talent-management agency — weren't exactly five-star. In fact, they seemed pretty shameful. One player shared a photo of a worm on the floor of her hotel room. A mouse trap was spotted in a laundry room, and two teams reportedly had to change rooms because of bed bugs.

Meanwhile, some players are calling for the league to remove Atlanta Dream co-owner (and U.S. Senator from Georgia) Kelly Loeffler after she sent a controversial letter to commissioner Cathy Engelbert. Loeffler asked for the WNBA to scrap its plan to allow players to wear warmup shirts with "Black Lives Matter" and other messages related to the protest movement on them because it "undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion." Loeffler, who is a Republican and a Trump supporter, would rather players wear an American flag on their uniforms instead. She's also made some other controversial statements. Read about those here, and read more about the sub-standard conditions in the bubble here.

And finally…

Are you ready for some hockey? Actually, potentially unsafe levels of hockey? The NHL hasn't released a schedule for its playoff tournament yet, but the league is reportedly thinking about starting off with three games per day in each of the two hub cities. These would reportedly take place at 12 p.m., 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. local time. So, assuming Toronto and Edmonton are the cities, that means a viewer in the Eastern time zone could watch games starting at 12 p.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. That's more than 12 consecutive hours of hockey! No breaks! Please consult your doctor before beginning this program.

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