Chicago Blackhawks CEO Says Name Change Not in Team’s Future

Are the days numbered for the Chicago Blackhawks team name and logo? The answer is no, according to the team’s new CEO, Danny Wirtz, who affirmed the team’s commitment to the logo and name at a press conference last week.

That news comes after Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team announced plans to drop its Indians nickname last week and months after Washington’s NFL team dropped its nickname.

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Some Native American groups are pushing back, saying the Hawks’ nickname and imagery promote harmful stereotypes. 

Others credit the team for its outreach efforts toward Indigenous groups.

“I think its time has come, we’re in a new era in which we’re seeing a lot of schools and sports teams change their nicknames that relate to American Indian stereotyping. This would be a great time for that to go forward,” said Dorene Wiese, president of the American Indian Association of Illinois who has worked to change mascots, including those at Lane Tech High School and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Blackhaws are named after the Sauk leader Black Hawk. The team says it’s working to expand its efforts to “honor and celebrate” Black Hawk’s legacy. 

In a statement to WTTW News, the team said it is “reimagining ways to support the many Native American people and communities we live amongst and alongside” and will “continue our genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups.” (Read the full statement here.)

The Blackhawks are in a different situation than Cleveland’s baseball team and Washington’s football team, said Joe Podlasek, CEO of the Trickster Cultural Center, a Native American community arts center. 

Washington’s NFL team nickname was derogatory, he said. Meanwhile, the “Blackhawks are investing in cultural activities and in community.”

But Wiese says the Blackhawks team logo portrays a “disrespectful image” of Native Americans. 

“It dates back to really a few hundred years ago where stereotyped images were created of our people, and they were meant to really degrade us,” Wiese said. “This is not an accurate [depiction] of Black Hawk, he did not look like that. It’s a caricature, it doesn’t really show who he really was or tell us more about his history, or the history of his people or what happened in Illinois … The issue we’re facing is that people don’t know the history of American Indian people in Illinois.”

The Trickster Cultural Center has worked with the Chicago Blackhawks for 10 years, and will open a new educational exhibit Tuesday, sponsored in part by the hockey team. 

Podlasek said the lack of historical knowledge is something the hockey team is working to address.

“Part of our opening tomorrow, which is online, shares a ton of Illinois history, circa 1750, all the way to today’s contemporary community,” Podlasek said. “We have a lot of history in the exhibit, along with a lot of other amazing traditional housing, tribute to our veterans, stem technology and more.”

The Blackhawks have also made other changes such as banning fans from wearing headdresses at the United Center and introducing a land acknowledgement.

“It’s a beginning,” Podlasek said. “We need to continue to work and spread the word and get more active in communities that are willing.” 

Read the full statement from the Chicago Blackhawks:

The Chicago Blackhawks continue to grow in our commitments to honor and celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering our platforms, making meaningful contributions, collaborating with Native American people, and reimagining ways to support the many Native American people and communities we live amongst and alongside. As we look to expand our efforts, we will continue our genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups and are committed to collaborating with Native American people and communities.

It is through these collaborations that we’ve begun the thoughtful and focused process of implementing more Native American-led initiatives centered on education, contemporary art, athletics, and Indigenous food systems, and this expanded foundation will continue to grow during the 2020-21 season and beyond. Part of this work will include working with Native partners in educating our staff, fans and local community on the history of Black Hawk and original peoples of Illinois, as well as on Native American contributions to today’s society. We will also continue to expand our investments in Native individuals and communities. 

Through these initiatives, we endeavor to build a community that is informed and respectful of Native American people and their culture. We look forward to getting these efforts further underway and hope our fans and partners will join us in continuing this growth and development as we work toward becoming better allies.

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