The U.S Patent and Trademark Office canceled 6 federal trademarks for the NFL’s Washington Redskins after the name “Redskins” was deemed as “disparaging” to Native Americans. This is no doubt the first of a series of events that will eventually lead to the Redskins finally changing the name of their team. Now, the question for fans of the Chicago Blackhawks is: Are the Hawks next?
While the name “Redskins” is without a doubt derogatory and offensive to Native Americans and it has been a hot-button issue for some time now. For them, the name-change has been a long time coming, but what about the Blackhawks? There has hardly been a peep of controversy over Blackhawks name, but it is worthy of discussion due to the seemingly obvious reference to Native Americans, along with the “Indian Head” logo.
As obvious as the Native American reference in the Blackhawks name seems, it is actually incorrect. In a way.
In 1926, after purchasing the Portland Rosebuds, of the Western Hockey League, Frederic McLaughlin, was tasked with renaming the team as he was moving them to Chicago to join the National Hockey League.
He would call the team The Chicago Black Hawks(it would later become Blackhawks in 1986). The name “Black Hawks” was also the nickname of 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Division of the United States Army that McLaughlin was the commander of, during World War I. The use of the Black Hawks nickname, for McLaughlin’s battalion, was to honor the Sauk Native American chief that fought along side the British, during The War of 1812.
So, in short the Blackhawks name is in honor of a group of American soldiers during World War I, and a secondhand honoring of Native American warriors(that ironically fought AGAINST Americans) from The War of 1812. This complicated naming/honoring process of the Blackhawks is much more excusable than the obvious racially offensive Redskins name. So, they’ve got that going for them.
The logo might be a little different. The iconic “Indian Head” logo is a favorite of not just hockey aficionados, but aficionados of all sports. The logo is great, which is why it has hardly changed in 88 years. However, the logo is clearly a depiction of a Native American, which makes things a bit more complicated. Look at the Cleveland Indians, of the MLB, who have begun phasing out their “Chief Wahoo” logo, in favor of a “C” logo. Cleveland’s Chief Wahoo logo depicts a seemingly crazed Native American, in an offensively cartoonish way, which is sort of mocking Native Americans.
Although it sort of patronizes Native Americans by using them in mascot form, the Hawks’ logo is a far more respectful depiction of Native Americans, than other team mascots. Regardless of whether the intentions of the representation are respectful or disrespectful, there is an unavoidable awkwardness when a specific race is used as the logo of sports franchise.
Now, consider the traditions of the Blackhawks when compared to other teams that are borderline offensive to Native Americans. The Atlanta Braves of the MLB and the Florida State Seminoles go too far in their traditions. Both teams encourage their fans to do the “tomahawk chop” to cheer on the teams. This could be considered the height of offensive. It is mocking a group of people, their tradition, and their culture in order for fans to feel that they are part of the event that they are attending. The point of this article isn’t to point out what’s right and wrong when dealing with other cultures and races, but there definitely needs to be a stronger awareness as to what might come off as disrespectful to other cultures, in the world of sports. As far as these types of traditions go, they are non-existent at Blackhawks games. Their mascot, Tommy Hawk, is a cartoony bird that wears a Blackhawks jersey. At games, he bangs on drums and pumps up the crowd in non-offensive ways. The Hawks check out clean, in this department.
So, while other teams have gone too far in their use of Native Americans as for nicknaming sports teams, the Chicago Blackhawks should be safe. Other teams have used the images of Native Americans in offensive and hurtful ways, the Blackhawks have not. Although the Blackhawks’ is up for debate as it can be seen as offensive, the story of their nickname, and overall non-offensive traditions should leave them off the hook for any name or logo changes in the future.