In early July, The Washington Football team promised it would conduct “a thorough review” of the racial slur that it had used as a team name for more than eight decades. Meanwhile, other sports teams that have relied on Native American imagery faced questions about whether they would continue to stand behind their own branding. While some, like the Cleveland Indians, have considered the possibility of removing references to Indigenous peoples from their jerseys, others have essentially said “Nope, not happening.”
The Atlanta Braves’ top executive—a white dude named Terry—has already decided that the Braves will “unequivocally” be keeping their name. He also told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the team hasn’t decided whether fans should still do the “Tomahawk chop,” a hand gesture that is accompanied by a cringe-worthy kind of vocalization that you rarely hear outside of ‘classic’ films that don’t have plots as much as they have collections of problematic stereotypes.
The NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks also released a statement pledging to stick with their team name and the symbols stitched onto their sweaters. “The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public,” the team said. “Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people.”
And on Wednesday, they took a step that the Atlanta Braves wouldn’t, namely by telling fans that they could no longer appropriate Native American culture when they were allowed to attend games at the United Center again. “We have always maintained an expectation that our fans uphold an atmosphere of respect, and after extensive and meaningful conversations with our Native American partners, we have decided to formalize those expectations,” they wrote.
“Moving forward, headdresses will be prohibited for fans entering Blackhawks-sanctioned events or the United Center when Blackhawks home games resume. These symbols are sacred, traditionally reserved for leaders who have earned a place of great respect in their Tribe, and should not be generalized or used as a costume or for everyday wear.”
The Blackhawks have also pledged to build “a platform that will further integrate Native American culture and storytelling across our organization,” to honor the cultural contributions of contemporary Native Americans, and to establish a new wing at the Native American-owned Trickster Cultural Center.
All of that is admirable, but some still think the team’s name and its logo—a Native American man in profile—need to go too. Last summer, the American Indian Center of Chicago (AIC) ended its relationship with the team, due to the fact that it continues to use a very real man as its mascot. (And his given name wasn’t even Black Hawk: it was Mà-ka-tai-me-she-kià-kiàk).
“As a community-based organization, the American Indian Center of Chicago (AIC) will take a proactive stance on only partnering with organizations that uphold our values,” the organization wrote. “Going forward, AIC will have no professional ties with the Blackhawks or any other organization that perpetuates harmful stereotypes. We see this as necessary to sustain a safe, welcoming environment for members of our community as well as protecting our cultural identity and traditions.”
For some Native Americans, that “team identity” that the Blackhawks have pledged to stand behind isn’t just another logo. “It’s a trigger,” one Blackhawks fan and member of the M’Chigeeng First Nation told ESPN in 2014. “It’s a sea of floating dead Indian heads [in the stadium].”
After that Washington football team completed its “thorough review,” it decided to use the name, uh, The Washington Football Team for the upcoming season. Surely Chicago can come up with something better than that.