Tag Archives: National Hockey League

Cheering for the Chicago Blackhawks: A Tradition of Racial Play

By Guest Contributor Charles Fruehling Springwood

Members of the Chicago Blackhawk celebrate winning the Stanley Cup in a June 28 parade. Image by tanveer.i.ali via Flickr creative commons.

As a white youth growing up playing ice hockey in the 1960s, in a Chicago suburb, I fell in love with the Chicago Blackhawks. I watched Hawks games on T.V., and during the intermissions between the periods, I retired to the kitchen (and its smooth, slick tile floor) to shoot my plastic puck at the cabinets. For the kitchen shootouts, I channeled my all-time favorite, the always-helmeted Stan Mikita, or on occasion, Bobby Hull. Born just after the team’s 1961 Stanley Cup championship, I anticipated – without too much patience – the next championship, and suffered through the team’s two failed Stanley Cup appearances in the early seventies.

But between those years and the team’s next championships in 2010 and now 2013, my Native American friends encouraged me to reflect more deeply on the way symbols like the team’s own “Chief Black Hawk” distorted their identities, particularly in the imaginations of white Americans. Ultimately, in graduate school at the University of Illinois-Champaign, I critiqued my school’s infamous mascot, Chief Illiniwek, and my friend Richard King and I went on to edit Team Spirits: The Native American Mascot Controversy, a 2001 collection of essays giving voice to how Native Americans feel about many of these manifestations of the power of non-Indian, mostly white institutions and people to (re)represent, (re)name, and (re)contextualize Native peoples for white purposes.

In his foreword for the book, renowned scholar Vine Deloria Jr. of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation wrote:

With diehard refusal to change the names and logos of sports teams we always hear the justification that the name is being used to ‘honor’ us. This tortured reasoning makes its proponents look absurd. Obviously if garish costumes, demeaning cheers, and crude logos are the essence of honor, then the various sports halls of fame need to perform drastic surgery on the busts and plaques of their honorees. The excuse, being lame, must conceal something more profound, which cannot or will not be articulated by those people ‘honoring’ us.

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Quoted: Clinton Yates on Hockey’s Racism Issues

Joel Ward (r). Courtesy TheProvince.com

When Joel Ward scored the overtime winner for the Capitals to end the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins’ season, a wave of racist tweets surfaced. They ranged from casually offensive to viciously hateful. None were shocking. But they illustrated the latent sentiment that exists in many pockets of the fan base that hockey is a sport to be played and enjoyed by whites.

Being a black hockey fan can be a singular experience. You can feel the racial divide at games. So when Ward lit the lamp last night, yes, personally, it felt good to see a black man score such an important goal for the franchise.

It’s about time that the NHL tackled its race issues head-on. If the league wants to move forward as a brand, they need to recognize that they can do something about racism. When Kobe Bryant yelled a homophobic slur at a referee that was caught on camera, the NBA swiftly and justly fined him and then produced a PSA campaign against usage of the word. FIFA, the global soccer association, has very publicly taken a stance against racism from fans with some of the world’s most popular stars.
- From The Washington Post