We previously discussed the controversial decisions to drop the “Fighting Sioux” and “Chief Illini” and the Pioneers and the Aztecs. I have been critical of some of these moves in cases where the schools honored the history of different groups. Indeed, schools like Illinois had a student work for a couple years in understanding Chief Illini and the history before their name. While I was more sympathetic to objections to the name of the team, I also opposed the effort of the government to strip the Redskins of trademark protections. Despite the opposition, I supported the decision of the Cleveland Indians to drop the Chief Wahoo logo, though I do not support demands that they change their team name. Now, however, some have called for the dropping of the famous Blackhawk logo — perhaps the most recognizable and legendary symbol in hockey. Since I am an unabashed Blackhawks fans, this will likely be dismissed as the bias of a Chicago native but I fail to see the compelling rationale for such a change.
The Blackhawks logo is not the caricature of Chief Wahoo or an offensive image. It is meant to honor Chief Black Hawk, a legendary figure. In 1926, Frederick McLaughlin named the team the Black Hawks — a name that he used as a commander of the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Division in World War I.
The choice of Chief Black Hawk was notable for an Illinois team in honoring a figure who was viewed as a lethal rival in early wars by settlers. Black Hawk led a band of Sauk warriors during the Black Hawk War of 1832 and then fought with the British in the War of 1812. He then led the “British Band” — a collection of Sauk and Fox warriors, against settlers in Illinois in the 1832 Black Hawk War. He was later captured but he was respected for his fierce fighting spirit and leadership.
As in some of these past disputes, the question is whether it is necessary to yield no matter how small the number of objectors or how questionable the objections. Consider this statement from a recent column:
First, I can’t say that it actually isn’t offensive because I am only one person. There are billions of other people who can look at it and find it offensive. The thought of wanting to cheer on a team but finding its logo to be something hurtful is incredibly sad. The team and its fandom should be inclusive to everyone and not leave people on the outside trying to speak up on why it offends them.
In a large society, anything but the most generic logo is likely to generate some complaint. (I am still waiting for a PETA objection to my beloved Cubs and Bears). The decision should be based on objective merit not individual objections. I fail to see the objections to our logo as objectively reasonable. While there is a need to be empathic and consider the feelings of others in the use of names or logos, there must also be convincing basis for such demands. There is no reason why a team’s use of a tribe or figure cannot be meant to honor the subjects like the Vikings or Cowboys or Fighting Irish.
What do you think?