Washington’s NFL team is no longer the Redskins, and, in major league baseball, the Cleveland Indians have moved away from anything that reminds fans of the heyday of Chief Wahoo. So, that had many sports fans and sports media figures wondering, what about the NHL? Would the Chicago Blackhawks change their storied franchise’s branding too?
The people asking that question received a quick and unqualified answer: Not a chance. Unlike the Redskins, a name many Native Americans consider particularly offensive, Chicago says the “Blackhawks” moniker is not only respectful, it’s a tribute to a specific person, and they’re not about to dishonor him. In a recent media statement, the team said:
“The Chicago Blackhawks’ name and logo symbolize an important and historical person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans, and the public… We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions, and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform…”
To further get out in front of critics demanding the team follow the example of franchises in other sports, Chicago’s statement pointed people to the franchise’s history, which began in 1926. Later, the team was named by owner Frederic McLaughlin, who served as a tank commander in the Blackhawk Division, named after Chief Black Hawk.
Again, trying to stay ahead of the critics, the statement acknowledged some of the controversy surrounding the use of Native American names and symbols in sports: “We recognize there is a fine line between respect and disrespect… We commend other teams for their willingness to engage in that conversation. Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people…”
Bottom line, though: The Chicago Blackhawks plan to continue as The Chicago Blackhawks, and they are neither entertaining nor considering any ideas or plans to rebrand their name or their images at this time or in the near future. They have considered the demands of some in the media and responded to the curiosity of others, but they have made a clear and specific statement, as well as a promise to continue to further engage in community efforts to support Native American people and educational efforts.
The team clearly believes they can be effective in these efforts while still representing the Blackhawk name and imagery. It will be up to the fans and advertisers to let them know if this decision remains a socially and financially viable position in today’s world.