Chicago’s NHL squad should keep its iconic name and logo
Last week, the Cleveland baseball franchise announced it was jettisoning the name Indians after more than a century (they were originally called the Naps — after player Nap Lajoie, not because they were asleep on the field). If they follow the decision of the Washington Football Team — which dropped the Redskins moniker this summer – they will simply be known as the Cleveland Baseball Team. Though the word Indians may be wiped from their history, fortunately, that won’t change that glorious November night in 2016 when the Chicago Cubs beat them to win the World Series.
Removing Indian nicknames from sports teams has been happening for decades. The Stanford Indians became the Cardinal (the color). Dartmouth, a school founded to educate Native Americans, eschewed Indians in favor of the Big Green (two of my alma maters, Deerfield Academy and Denison University, were the Big Green and Big Red, respectively. I would have much preferred a mascot, even something as unusual as the Anteaters). Closer to home, Notre Dame is the Fighting Irish, with the logo of a leprechaun putting up his dukes. As far as I know, there have been no protests against it or calls to remove it, though the logo can give the impression of a bar brawl.
The decision out of Cleveland means eyes will turn, once again, to the Chicago Blackhawks. Since the 1920s, this Original Six NHL franchise has been named after Chief Black Hawk, a person rather than a tribe or race.
The Blackhawks aren’t the only ones adopting his likeness. The Atlanta Hawks, who were once called the Tri-City Blackhawks, are named after him. The U.S. Army has honored him by christening a helicopter the Black Hawk. Our western neighbor, Iowa, is called the Hawkeye State because of the warrior (there’s even a Black Hawk County in Iowa).
Who was the Chief? He defied the U.S. government to try to reoccupy Illinois land he felt was unfairly taken from his people, which included the Sauks and the Kickapoos. He initiated the Black Hawk War of 1832, which ended with many Indians killed and Chief Black Hawk in prison. Eventually released, he lived out the remainder of his days quietly until he died at age 71.
The Blackhawks are named after him because of their first owner, Frederic McLaughlin. During World War I, his unit was known as the 86th Blackhawk Division. Scion to a coffee fortune, after the war he played polo at Onwentsia, married famous dancer Irene Castle and ended up buying the Chicago NHL entry. He didn’t base the Blackhawks’ logo on any description of the Chief himself; rather, his wife designed it from the Indian adorning the Onwentsia logo. In 2008, The Hockey News named it the best logo in the NHL.
Earlier this year, the team released a statement hailing Chief Black Hawk, “whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public,” according to the franchise. In fact, the Blackhawks are the rare team in the United States named after a person; the only other one I can think of at any level is the Cleveland Browns. It is named not after the color but after its first coach, Paul Brown (given the Naps, Cleveland seems to enjoy naming teams after people). Naming a franchise after Hall of Famer Brown is a little different than Chief Black Hawk, who safe to say never played hockey in his lifetime.
The Blackhawk name is iconic. The design of the logo is both handsome and elegant, and placed on a red jersey, it’s hard to think of a better uniform in sports. It is a great honor for any person to represent an entire franchise, and let’s hope Chief Black Hawk graces center ice for years to come.
The Sporting Life columnist David A. F. Sweet can be followed on Twitter @davidafsweet. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.