Edmonton Eskimos to keep name. Did they make the right choice?

By Dave Korzinski, Research Director

Feb. 19, 2020 – After spending the past year consulting Inuit communities about their name, the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos have decided that they will not be changing the 71-year-old moniker.

The CFL’s second-most winning franchise (14 Grey Cups) has faced some criticism in recent years as a part of the movement to rid sports leagues of team names based on Indigenous characterizations in their nicknames or logos. On one side of the argument are those who say these types of names honour cultural traditions or are harmless titles that communities have become accustomed to.

On the other side is the view that Indigenous communities are disrespected through caricature and in some cases, racism, as a result of such team names. Proponents of that argument cite research that has documented ways in which derogatory Indigenous imagery in sports has affected youth in these communities.

The Edmonton franchise reached out to Inuit leaders and communities last year after protests brought attention to the name. Natan Obed, the President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national representational organization for Inuit in Canada, wrote to the Globe and Mail in 2015 on behalf of more than 60,000 Inuit, asking that the name be changed.

According to the Edmonton team’s management, their consultations have noted that the term Eskimos as a team nickname is viewed differently by various northern communities, in some cases more positively, in some cases negatively. The lack of consensus was reportedly enough for the organization to eschew a change.

The Angus Reid Institute asked the Canadian public for their opinions on the matter last year, finding that, indeed, opinion is different across various groups as to whether or not the name is objectionable. Approximately three-in-ten (29%) find the name Eskimos offensive, though these opinions vary considerably across age and gender.

On the one hand, organizations such as the Edmonton Eskimos don’t make money by offending consumers. That said, previous research from ARI shows that older men, by far the most likely to follow the CFL, are also least likely to take offense. Thus, calls for change are less likely to come from fans of the league, or fans of the team in particular – who are ultimately buying team tickets and paraphernalia.

While most do not find the Eskimos name offensive, a greater number say they are comfortable amending names that are considered offensive by some, though again, this does not represent a majority view, except among 18- to 34-year-olds:

There are more objectionable name and logo combinations than the Edmonton case which can provide some insight into what appears to offend Canadians. The combinations most likely to bother respondents are those of the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians. In each case, 43 per cent of Canadians find the nomenclature or iconography offensive.

Note, the following images were shown to respondents in order to ensure each had an accurate understanding of each team’s branding.

Both team logos presented to respondents represent a caricature of an Indigenous person, which many Canadians found in poor taste. This is entirely absent from the Eskimos discussion, with the team sporting a relatively straightforward ‘double E’ logo, which may help to explain why fewer Canadians have a visceral negative reaction toward the team.

The Cleveland franchise recently moved away from the logo of ‘Chief Wahoo’ after years of protests, changing their logo to a simple ‘C’, while Washington owner Daniel Snyder has vehemently opposed any effort to change the team name or logo.

While myriad examples of teams using Indigenous imagery continue to exist, changes have come in recent years. The McGill University Redmen changed their name last year, something a majority of Canadians supported. Teams in Mississauga, Ottawa, Swift Current, and many other municipalities, have done also done away with team names like the Indians and Tomahawks.

For now, the Eskimos are keeping the team name, but generational dynamics suggest that these conversations may not be entirely settled.

Image – Ben Hershey/Unsplash

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