Teams are finally changing their names, and what exactly is “cancel” culture

The NFL world was hit with a bombshell last Thursday when there were reports that the Washington Redskins were officially asked by FedEx to change the name of their team. The shipping company is the team’s stadium sponsor — Washington has played at “FedEx Field” since 1999 — and CEO Fredrick Smith is a minority owner in the franchise. Hours later, Nike — the official clothing and jersey sponsor of the NFL — removed all team apparel from their website.

There have been calls to change the name for years from Indigenous American groups and others due to its racism, and finally it seems that the monetary threat may be enough to force the team into change. On Friday, the team officially announced that they would “Review the current name”. It seems near certain that the franchise in Washington DC will soon have a new moniker.

A day later, the Cleveland Indians of the MLB would review their nickname as well, potentially swapping names in the near future. The Indians notably changed logo’s before the 2019 season, retiring Chief Wahoo, a logo so obviously racist it is hard to believe it existed.

Despite the logo change, there is still something extremely uncomfortable about the Indians name. Using an ethnic group entirely unrelated to the team itself as a logo feels disgusting. “Indians” — whether reference to Indigenous Americans or people from India — is not a term that should be used as a mascot no matter what the logo accompanying it is.

It is unsure when either of these two teams will unveil their new logos. The MLB will return to action late this month, so Cleveland will have a rebrand ready for the 2021 season at earliest. Washington is in a similar spot. Training camp kicks off in July, with preseason in August and the regular season in September (assuming COVID-19) does not delay everything). There is absolutely no way either franchise gets an entire rebrand done over the course of a few weeks, meaning it may be a while before we find out the future nickname the teams will use.

While the steps the first two teams are making are great, the work is not quite done yet in American professional sports. The Atlanta Braves and Chicago Blackhawks still exist in the MLB and NHL respectively, and pressure will surely be on both franchises to join the aforementioned teams in the near future. The defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs still exist as well, though the nature of their name could be seen as somewhat different than the others.

Still, though, a discussion should — and probably will — open up around all three teams.

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A classified ad from the Winon Daily Republican in 1863 (found via the Washington Post) puts a $200 bounty on the head of any “Indian”, offering a reward to any white man in the area that “sent a red-skin to purgatory”.

America wanted to spread further west after winning independence from Britain in the Revolutionary War. The belief in manifest destiny made many Americans believe it was their God given duty to extend their nations border from coast to coast.

One hitch in that plan is that there were already many other nations existing between those coasts. From the day European settlers arrived in America, they subjected the people indigenous to the Americas to violence, torture and subjugation. The Europeans brutalized and murdered thousands of Indigenous Americans. Their holy sites were destroyed. While the first nations people attempted to quell the violence by surrendering territory and signing treaties with the colonizers, the treaties were often broken by the Europeans in many examples of military forces or organized militias attacking Indigenous Americans on their own land.

This does not even include the initial treatment Indigenous Americans received as colonizers first arrived. Christopher Columbus is often credited with “discovering the New World” (though he never made it to any territory we would today consider the United States) and he himself documented the brutal treatment the indigenous received from his men. Natives received similar treatment on the continent itself, and were even subjected to more systematized ethnic cleansing, with the Europeans distributing disease infected blankets to Natives to infect and kill them with foreign germs.

Colonizers eventually took over the east coast of the “New World”. They fought off the British from the East and purged the indigenous people towards the west. They were not done, though. A newly formed United States of America was hungry for more land. The 1800’s were filled with examples of the United States using military force against Native Americans, including notable events like the Trail of Tears, The Battle at the Alamo and the Massacre at Wounded Knee. Each of these events saw militias join with official US Forces to terrorize and brutalize people in the name of acquiring more territory.

The ad in the Winona Daily Republican was just another example of that. White men were encouraged to go out and slaughter innocent people in the name of western expansion. Despite having arrived on the continent only a few centuries earlier, colonizers felt they had a right to the land and lives of those who had lived here for generations.

While the bounties themselves no longer exist, Indigenous Americans are still treated as second class citizens on their own land. Their reservations — land that still belongs to First Nations by way of treaties and can not be purchased by foreigners — are slowly shrinking. 24% of Indigenous Americans are currently living in poverty, the highest rate of any classified racial group in the United States. Oil pipelines are intentionally pathed through their land, contaminating their water. There has also been a growing problem with Indigenous women either going missing or being murdered — and many fear that it could often be the doing of human traffickers.

For the past 87 years there has been a professional football team whose nickname is a slur that has been leveraged at Indigenous communities in the past to dehumanize, and literally murder them. Those that have owned the team are white men who likely descend from colonizers and whose families acquired the wealth necessary to own a professional sports team due to the colonization and exploitation of Indigenous Americans (and many others).

As our countries most vulnerable have struggled in a nation built specifically to demonize them, their likeness is being used as sports logo’s all around the country.

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Common counterpoints from those (largely on the right) who do not want to change blatantly racist sports mascots is that “the left will cancel everything” or “grow up snowflake, it’s just a sports logo”.

Those are interesting arguments to take a look at. The idea of “cancelling” has seemingly become a rallying point of some sort for all three major political realms in the United States. The left has mainly used it to target each other on the internet and figures on the left have just spent years tearing themselves down. Centrists have used it an avoidance of introspection, cancelling everyone to both the right and left. While the right wing often denounces cancel culture, they often use it themselves, cancelling everything and everyone under the sun in their never ending culture war.

While “cancelling” is extremely common in America, it may be hard to consider what happened to Washington as being cancelled.

Decades worth of campaigning by Native groups were ignored by the team. In the end FedEx, a private corporation, decided that they no longer wanted to be associated to a racial slur. FedEx is a company who, like every other private company on the planet, is most interested in generating profits over everything else. They are making the decision now because in the current climate associating your brand with a racial slur may hurt profits long term.

Conservative culture war will try to sell you on the idea that this is a result of communism/socialism/the regressive left/globalism/Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez/campus activists/Hillary Clinton/George Soros/Latino Immigrants or whoever else, but in reality the reason the team name is changing is because of what they love more than all.

Capitalism. The name is changing because it is in a companies best interest while operating on the free market to not have that name attached to them any longer.

Same with the Indians. The initial name change came for similar reasons, society at large has deemed the logo inappropriate, and it will be easier for them to market themselves to a younger generation of fans without a racist icon as their logo. Now in a climate where racism is less acceptable than ever, they have decided that having racist branding is not beneficial for their profit margin.

One thing the largest proponents of capitalism often forget is that our markets are a two way system. Economists (for the first time ever I get to use my econ degree on this newsletter) often refer to firms as price takers within the markets. Which is to say, those that are selling goods to buyers are not deciding prices, but instead setting the prices based on demand.

In a functional market economy, the consumer is supposed to have more power than the producer. In order for a producer to remain profitable and maintain their role on the open market then they must constantly adapt to the needs and wants of the society at large. Our markets are supposed to incentivize change and innovation, and if you expect to remain profitable then you better be willing to make changes as society itself changes.

The market has changed. The consumers that these team’s need to sell goods to are no longer open to buying merchandise, tickets or other goods and services from sports teams brandishing racist names. These companies would love to continue making money on the free market, but in order to do so they must adapt, change, and innovate.

Neither of these teams were “cancelled”, this is capitalism. This is the free market.

Freelance writer. Bylines in American Magazine, SB Nation and Mondoweiss. Culture and Sports.

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