Chicago Blackhawks name and logo controversy

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Jonathan Toews during the 2008–09 season, wearing a Chicago Blackhawks jersey that features the team's logo of a Native American head

The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo controversy refers to the controversy surrounding the name and logo of the Chicago Blackhawks, a National Hockey League (NHL) ice hockey team based in Chicago, Illinois. The use of terms and images referring to Native Americans/First Nations as the name or mascot for a sports team is a topic of public controversy in the United States and Canada. Since the 1960s, as part of the indigenous civil rights movements, there have been a number of protests and other actions by Native Americans and their supporters targeting the more prominent use of such names and images by professional franchises such as the Cleveland Indians (in particular their "Chief Wahoo" logo); and the Washington Redskins (the term "redskins" being defined in most American English dictionaries as 'derogatory slang').[1] While not receiving the same level of public attention, the Blackhawks are part of the larger issue.

The issue is often discussed in the media in terms of offensiveness, which reduces it to feelings and opinions, and prevents full understanding of the history and context of the use of Native American names and images and why their use by sports teams should be eliminated.[2] Social science research says that sports mascots and images, rather than being mere entertainment, are important symbols with deeper psychological and social effects.[3] Stereotyping may directly affect the academic performance and self-esteem of Native American youth, whose people face high rates of suicide, unemployment, and poverty.[4] Euro-Americans exposed to mascots may be more likely to believe not only that such stereotypes are true, but that Native Americans have no identity beyond these stereotypes.[5] Research demonstrates the harm of stereotyping, with studies showing that exposure to any stereotypes increased the likelihood of stereotypical thinking with regard to other groups.[6][7]

In 2005, the American Psychological Association issued a resolution "Recommending the Immediate Retirement of American Indian Mascots, Symbols, Images, and Personalities by Schools, Colleges, Universities, Athletic Teams, and Organizations" due to the harm done by creating a hostile environment, the negative impact on the self-esteem of American Indian children, and discrimination that may violate civil rights. It also impacts non-natives by reinforcing mainstream stereotypes, preventing learning about Native American culture. The APA states that stereotyping is disrespectful of the beliefs, traditions and values of Native Americans.[8] Similar resolutions have been adopted by the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport,[9] the American Sociological Association,[10] the American Counseling Association,[11] and the American Anthropological Association.[12] In a 2005 report on the status of Native American students, the National Education Association included the elimination of Indian mascots and sports team names as one of its recommendations.[13]


The National Hockey League (NHL)'s Chicago Blackhawks was named in honor of the U.S. 86th Infantry Division, which was nicknamed the "Blackhawk Division" after Black Hawk, a Native American chief; the team's founder, Frederic McLaughlin, having served in that division.[14][15][16]

Blackhawk was a leader of the Sauk who sided with the British in the War of 1812 and later attempted to regain tribal land in the Black Hawk War of 1832. Adoption of his name for the 86th Infantry, the hockey team, and later for the Blackhawk helicopter are an example of designating certain Native Americans as "worthy adversaries".[17][18]


Suzan Shown Harjo of the Morning Star Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group, says the Blackhawks have escaped the scrutiny given to other teams using Native imagery because hockey is not a cultural force on the level of football. American Indian organizations have called for an end to all Indian-related mascots and that she found the hockey team's name and Indian head symbol to be offensive. "It lacks dignity," she said. "There's dignity in a school being named after a person or a people. There's dignity in a health clinic or hospital. There's nothing dignified in something being so named (that is used for) recreation or entertainment or fun." The National Congress of American Indians also opposes the Blackhawks' logo, as it does all Native American mascots.[19] In 2010, sports columnist Damien Cox called on the franchise to retire the "racially insensitive" logo, saying that: "Clearly, no right-thinking person would name a team after an aboriginal figure these days any more than they would use Muslims or Africans or Chinese or any ethnic group to depict a specific sporting notion."[20]

Ghislain Picard, the head of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, says he would support the change of the logo to one designed by an Ojibwe artist featuring a black hawk.[21]

The owner of the NHL Winnipeg Jets has decided to ban fake Native headdresses at games after meeting with First Nations leaders. The meeting took place in response to a complaint by a Jets fan after seeing a Blackhawks fan in a headdress.[22]

Writing in the Atlantic, Steve Inskeep compares the Blackhawks case to the Redskins, and find that the question is "Do we learn anything from the team name?" Referring to a historical figure, perhaps the Blackhawks has the potential for a positive narrative, but the history of the use of "redskin" is generally negative or patronizing.[23]

Addressing the controversy[edit]

The Blackhawks have worked with the American Indian Center to help educate their community and fan base by sharing Native American culture and history. Scott Sypolt, Executive Counsel for the American Indian Center weighed in on the logo and name controversy by stating, "There is a consensus among us that there's a huge distinction between a sports team called the Redskins depicting native people as red, screaming, ignorant savages and a group like the Blackhawks honoring Black Hawk, a true Illinois historical figure."[24]

However, this stance is markedly different from the one previously taken by the American Indian Center, with the shift coming only in the past few years. In 2010, for instance, Joe Podlasek stated that, "The stance is very clear. We want the Chicago Blackhawks logo to change. For us, that's one of our grandfathers. Would you do that with your grandfather's picture? Take it and throw it on a rug? Walk on it and dance on it?" [25] John Blackhawk, Chairman of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, has suggested that the change in position for the American Indian Center may be connected to contributions the Blackhawks organization has recently begun making to the center: "We all do contributions, but we don't do it for the sake of wanting to be forgiven for something we've done that's offensive."[19]


  1. ^ Laurel R. Davis (2010). "4. The Problems with Native American Mascots". In C. Richard King. The Native American Mascot Controversy: A Handbook. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-6731-4.
  2. ^ C. Richard King, ed. (2010). The Native American Mascot Controversy: A Handbook. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-8108-6731-4.
  3. ^ Stephanie A. Fryberg (September 2008). "Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots". Basic and applied social psychology. 30 (3): 208.
  4. ^ Annie Murphy Paul (October 6, 2012). "It's Not Me, It's You". The New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2013.
  5. ^ John Chaney (January 1, 2011). "Do American Indian Mascots = American Indian People? Examining Implicit Bias towards American Indian People and American Indian Mascots". American Indian and Alaska native mental health research. 18 (1): 42.
  6. ^ Chu Kim-Prieto (March 2010). "Effect of Exposure to an American Indian Mascot on the Tendency to Stereotype a Different Minority Group". Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 40 (3): 534. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2010.00586.x.
  7. ^ Shankar Vedantam (March 25, 2010). "Native American imagery as sports mascots: A new problem". Psychology Today. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
  8. ^ "Summary of the Resolution Recommending Retirement of American Indian Mascots". American Psychological Association. 2005.
  9. ^ "NASSS Native American Imagery Resolution". North American Society for the Sociology of Sport. October 28, 2005. Retrieved February 5, 2017.
  10. ^ "Statement by the Council of the American Sociological Association on Discontinuing the Use of Native American Nicknames, Logos and Mascots in Sport". American Sociological Association. March 6, 2007. Archived from the original on February 21, 2013. Retrieved 2013-01-23.
  11. ^ "Opposition to Use of Stereotypical Native American Images as Sports Symbols and Mascots" (PDF). American Counseling Association. 2001. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-09-15. Retrieved 2013-01-23.
  12. ^ "AAA Calls on Sports Organizations to Denounce Inappropriate American Indian Mascots" (PDF). March 25, 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 4, 2016.
  13. ^ Trujillo,Octaviana (Ph.D.); Alston, Denise (Ph.D.) (2005), A Report on the Status of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Education, National Education Association
  14. ^ "A brief history: Chicago Blackhawks". NHL Enterprises, LP. August 8, 2010. Retrieved May 15, 2018.
  15. ^ Ledra, Cristina; Pickens, Pat (November 22, 2016). "NHL team nicknames explained". NHL Enterprises, LP. Retrieved May 15, 2018.
  16. ^ Baffoe, Tim (2013-06-17). "Should The Blackhawks Ditch Their Indian Head Logo?". CBS Chicago.
  17. ^ Stephen E. Nash (February 2, 2016). "Confessions of a Blackhawks Fan: Can an anthropologist who loves hockey embrace his team's race-based mascot?". Sapiens. Retrieved September 6, 2017.
  18. ^ Simon Waxman (June 26, 2014). "The U.S. military's ongoing slur of Native Americans". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 6, 2017.
  19. ^ a b Keilman, John (June 19, 2013). "Protests rare over Blackhawks' name, logo: While critics say use of Indian mascots perpetuates outdated image, hockey club says it has mutually beneficial ties with local community". Chicago Tribune.
  20. ^ Cox, Damien (2010-05-28). "Cox: Offensive Blackhawks logo has got to go | Toronto Star". Retrieved 2013-03-03.
  21. ^ "Chicago Blackhawks logo of actual black hawk gets support of Quebec First Nations chief". CBC News. November 5, 2015.
  22. ^ Schilling, Vincent (November 11, 2015). "Winnipeg Jets Ban Fake Native Headdresses". Indian Country Today.
  23. ^ Steve Inskeep (June 19, 2015). "How Is the Blackhawks' Name Any Less Offensive Than the Redskins'?: Like the Washington NFL franchise, the Chicago hockey team has a Native American name, but the history it evokes is better worth remembering". The Atlantic.
  24. ^ Neveau, James (2013-10-18). "Blackhawks Avoid Backlash -- For Now -- by Engaging Native American". NBC Chicago. Retrieved 2015-02-19.
  25. ^ "Wearing Someone Else's Culture: More on the Chicago Blackhawks". Indian Country Today. June 19, 2013.