The discussion around whether the Edmonton Eskimos should change their name is nothing new.
We went through it last spring when my friends over at Piffles Podcast broke the news that the team was in the process of changing their name from Eskimos to Empire. It started a firestorm of reactions, most of which said that it either (a) wasn’t happening or (b) shouldn’t happen.
Then the controversy went away, as controversies do, because we started focusing on other things, like the actual football season.
Then it came up again in the fall when comedian Jim Jeffries did a segment on his show asking if the name “Eskimos” was racist or not. This divided people once again, but as happened before the whole thing went away and we stopped talking about it.
It is back in the news again after the franchise revealed it has been consulting with Inuit leaders and members of the Inuit community across Canada for a year, focusing on whether or not the team should change its name.
The keep-the-name people will champion this as a victory, similar to how Dan Snyder — owner of Washington’s NFL team — does when a poll or story comes out showing that a certain segment of the population doesn’t think his team’s horribly racist name is horribly racist.
But let’s get one thing clear: the name “Eskimos” is not okay and the team should change it.
A couple of years ago I made the conscious decision to stop referring to Edmonton’s football team by their nickname. I wanted to do it for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, I was curious if anyone would notice. No one has brought it up with me, which means it hasn’t affected my ability to talk about the team.
Secondly, but most importantly, as the naming controversies regarding Washington’s NFL team and Cleveland’s MLB team intensified, I tried to find justification for why we were fine with one of our team’s having what was, at best, a problematic name and, at worst, an incredibly offensive one. After thinking about it for some time, I came to the conclusion that Edmonton’s team name was no longer acceptable to me and I was going to do my best not to use it.
I know that there are many people, including members of the Inuit community who consulted with the team, who don’t find the name offensive, but some do. One of those people is Natan Obed, the president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, who wrote an op-ed for the Globe and Mail in 2015 denouncing the name and calling for the team to change it.
If you don’t want to listen to me, an Anglo-Canadian of British heritage in his late-30s, maybe listen to the guy who represents 60,000 Inuit people and who said that “[t]he name is an enduring relic of colonial power. That force enabled Indigenous identity to be appropriated and redefined as a branding tool for non-Indigenous entertainment.”
That’s good enough for me and it should be good enough for you. But if it’s not, allow me to ask one simple question: would you call an Inuit person an Eskimo?
If the answer to that is no, then why do you think it’s okay to use that term to talk about, of all things, a football team?
I’d like to ask another question: if you are against the team changing the name, why?
And a follow up: what is so special about the name that it needs to be preserved?
The history of the club doesn’t change, the memories of the team don’t change. Nothing of real consequence changes. But you know what does change? What changes is a group that has been marginalized and treated as lesser than for far too long gets to feel some measure of respect.
Call them the Empire, the Elks, the Enchiladas; it doesn’t matter, just stop calling them this one thing.
The Charlotte Hornets used to be the Bobcats, the Washington Wizards were the Bullets, the New Orleans Pelicans were the Hornets, and the Tennessee Titans were the Oilers. Teams have changed their names before and none have done so for as good a reason as Edmonton would be.
Is the name of Edmonton’s team the most flagrant way in which Indigenous communities have been demeaned in this country? No. But it matters. Suggesting otherwise is like saying the police shouldn’t worry about robberies because there are murders to be solved.
There is no slippery-slope argument here, either. Changing Edmonton’s name doesn’t mean we should change Hamilton’s because it might be offensive to tigers or Calgary’s because it might be offensive to horses. That’s a straw man built by people who don’t want to have a real discussion about how a team’s name is offensive.
Edmonton’s team name is a slur used against a segment of our population; a term you would never imagine using if you met an Inuit person. If you know enough not to use the words outside the context of it being the name of a football team, you likely know deep down that we shouldn’t be using it as a nickname for a football team either.
It is 2020 and it is long past time we stopped naming our sports teams after groups of people, especially groups of people who have historically been treated like second-class citizens.
Do the right thing, Edmonton.
Change your name.