So it looks like the Washington Redskins are getting a much-needed rebrand.
The Cleveland Indians, too.
What does that mean for our Chicago Blackhawks?
We don’t know. At least not yet. The team was silent over the issue over the holiday weekend, as were the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Atlanta Braves, meanwhile, issued a statement saying the team “honors, supports and values the Native American community. That will never change.”
How interim president Danny Wirtz and the Hawks respond to this news, whether it’s this week or some point in the future, will tell us a lot.
We don’t have to look too far back to imagine the one way the Hawks might respond.
The Athletic’s Scott Powers just did that excellent deep dive on all the issues that makes the Indianhead on the Hawks sweater a more complicated issues than the cut-and-dry cases in Washington and Cleveland. You should read it if you haven’t already.
The Hawks didn’t make anyone available to talk for the story, which came out on June 25, but it did release this statement to Powers:
“We are very proud that our logo symbolizes an important and historic person whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans and fans. Through genuine and ongoing dialogue with local and national groups, we continue to learn about the needs of the Native people in our community, display a reverence for their culture and their traditions, and understand the need for constant communication regarding the use and the depiction of Native mark.”
It wasn’t that much different than many of the statements the Hawks have issued over the past decade as their place in American sports grew with each Cup and the team opened a relationship with the American Indian Center in Chicago, a relationship that ended sometime in 2015 when a new director at the AIC took over.
Releasing a similar statement this week would be an easy path to take, but it’s hard to tell if it will suffice in this moment. For so long, the Blackhawks, Braves and Chiefs were able to hide behind the inaction of Washington and Cleveland. The fact their names weren’t as bad as the Redskins or Indians gave them cover.
But that relative degree of deniability could disappear with the introduction of the Washington RedTails and Cleveland Spiders and the Hawks would be left as the lone “Big Four” sports team to be represented by a logo featuring a Native American person.
Will that matter? Should it?
I have to admit this isn’t really a topic I feel comfortable writing about.
For one, it’s a twisted issue filled with “yeah, buts” and “well, actuallys” on each side. It can be an exhausting argument and the split reaction from Native Americans that Powers documents makes it harder to zero in on what is right.
Which side is correct if one group derives pride from seeing Chief Black Hawk projecting strength while the other objects? Is the team’s interest in the Native American community real or just a way to protect one of the most valuable and recognizable brands in pro sports?
I don’t have a problem admitting I don’t know what the right answer is here, just as I have no problem recognizing the bias I approach the issue with.
As I sit at my desk and finish this, I can turn my head either way and count 28 visible Indianheads on my walls or shelves. Seven Hawks sweaters with the logo hang in my closet and I drive a car with Hawks license plates. I had a groom’s cake at my wedding in the shape of a Hawks sweater and my dog got a Hawks collar when she was rescued. The Hawks logo was one of the first both of my daughters could identify and I beam whenever either one of them puts on the tiny Hawks sweaters they own.
All of that looks insane when I write it out, but you get the picture. Like many of you, the Hawks logo has been so ingrained in my life as a Chicago sports fan that it almost seems impossible to walk around this issue and see it from all sides.
As a Hawks fan, I’m glad the United Center no longer tolerates the war drummers in the 300-level like they did in the ‘90s. I cringe whenever I see some idiot still showing up to a game in a headdress and war paint.
I like to think that makes me a *better* fan and one that is more respectful of the Native American tradition we like to think Chief Black Hawk represents.
But the truth is that I don’t really know. I look at some of the excuses Hawks fans reflexively use to defuse this argument whenever it comes up and they don’t sound that different from the ones that were used for decades in Washington and Cleveland. Take off the red sweater for a bit and it’s not hard to see the license we don’t want to surrender.
My hunch is that we’ve reached a point in America where we know that using the image of a person from a marginalized race to represent a sports team — in any context — is wrong.
Whether the Hawks use this moment for an honest reflection or to simply kick the can down the road and pretend there’s no debate? That remains to be seen.
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