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After the US Patent Office cancelled several trademarks formerly belonging to the NFL’s Washington Redskins on the basis that the team name is “disparaging to Native Americans”, a minority group of Canadians (those who watch the CFL) has turned its attention to the Edmonton Eskimos. Some argue the name is “outdated, inaccurate and mostly unaccepted in current discourse, and entirely inappropriate for a sports team.” However, the club has declared that the name is not a problem because the media are the only group worrying about it. How can we settle this disagreement? Let’s look to the greater sports world to make some insights.

The world of sports holds many silly, inappropriate, and offensive team names; where a name fits on that continuum depends on the person reading it. The Dallas “Cowboys” come off as okay for many people, but may seem gender-exclusive to others. The Edmonton “Oilers” sounds like a good name, but might be offensive to Canadians negatively affected by the Alberta Tar Sands. One could argue that the name of the Toronto “Argonauts” carries an air of pessimism that could discourage today’s youth…why not the “Argo-maybe’s”, or better yet, the “Argo-youcandoits”? Finally, the Ottawa “Senators” seem honourable, until you remember who they represent. The list of names goes on.

 

An Edmonton Eskimo, though not that type of Eskimo. The one that isn't horribly offensive for some reason.Darryl Dyck

An Edmonton Eskimo, though not that type of Eskimo. The one that isn’t horribly offensive for some reason.
Darryl Dyck

 

Should these teams have to change their names if they offend others (even if the “other” is a miniscule minority group)? As the modern world explores concepts like intersectionality (various axes of privilege and oppression that intersect to generate distinctive social experiences for different people), it is not difficult to see that seemingly neutral names could offend various groups of people. Therefore, when a team chooses a name, it should analyse the name and account for any potential problems. If the team decides to use an offensive name, the public or government should hold the team accountable.

Yet the Edmonton Eskimos already have their offensive name and have played under it without concern for many years; those dependent on the business might argue that they can’t go back and start over. Brands like the Eskimos or Redskins hold a lot of value. Surely the Harper government’s Economic Action Plan doesn’t allow social change to hinder profits. Changing Edmonton’s name would mean thousands (…hundreds?) of jerseys sold at discount prices. This would represent an unfortunate hit to Canada’s GDP, and could stagnate economic growth – it’s not worth the risk.

Activists might ask: “how can it be just to grandfather prejudice in sports?” while the apathetic might chime in (if they have a momentary burst of energy): “who cares? This whole issue is meaningless! It’s just a sports team.” Unfortunately, if we continue to allow prejudice in our team names – old and new – we’ll probably continue to allow prejudice in the rest of our lives. If we don’t take a stand in changing the explicit representations of Canada, we probably won’t alter our implicit discourse. If Canada wants to uphold a multicultural and accepting identity, we should probably start where it’s easy – let’s change our offensive team names.