The story behind the Portland Winterhawks’ jersey is that when the WHL team moved to town from Edmonton in 1976, they had a connection with the Chicago Black Hawks that saw the NHL franchise give Portland some of their old sweaters, with the junior team simply replacing the ‘C’ shoulder logo with a similar ‘P’ crest and keeping the exact same logo on the front.
The Winterhawks will reveal a new logo on Wednesday, one that does not feature any Native American imagery. In making the change, Portland joins a long list of teams that have closed that era for their franchise, including NFL Washington – which had thumbed its nose at change for years – and soon, Cleveland’s baseball team, which is still in the process of renaming its club.
Portland recently underwent an ownership change, with a group headlined by investors Michael Kramer and Kerry Preete leading the way. The Winterhawks also tried out a new third-jersey design last season that featured a hawk on the front, while the team has used a red, block ‘P’ logo for branding recently (pause the team’s teaser video for tomorrow and you can see a different ‘P’ logo on the ice at one point).
So the changes all make sense for Portland and frankly, it felt very incongruent for such a progressive city to be represented by a one-dimensional, problematic logo.
Which brings us to the Blackhawks. Chicago is dealing with an incredibly disturbing legal case right now surrounding alleged sexual assaults and conspiracies, but if there is to be a reckoning in the Blackhawks organization, why not wipe the slate completely clean while you have the chance?
Chicago’s current logo inspires very different emotions in people and even amongst Native Americans (and Native Canadians) themselves – some love it, some hate it. Personally, my problem is that there has never been any agency for the community that the logo purportedly represents; the Hawks aren’t owned by Native Americans and though the franchise has recently tried to put more of a corporate focus on inclusivity (and good on them for doing so), it’s not enough to justify an image that reduces a recognizable group to a war-like stereotype.
And without getting too much in the weeds here, Chicago was named the Black Hawks by owner Frederic McLaughlin because of his machine gun division in the First World War, which was nicknamed the ‘Black Hawk Division.’ Black Hawk was a Sauk leader who fought against American settlers and the U.S. Army for years and was eventually imprisoned and then paraded around the country. So even if McLaughlin originally meant the name as a compliment to Black Hawk’s fighting prowess, you can see how the whole thing, in a modern context, is problematic.
If Chicago wants to keep the name Blackhawks, they can certainly do so – the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks use a black hawk as their logo and mascot, no racial connotations present or needed. Changing the logo on the front of Chicago’s uniform would take away the most obvious reminder of the name’s origin and there is no reason why the team name’s meaning can’t evolve into one that is more literal in order to reflect where society is heading in terms of racial understanding.
For some of you, I’m sure this is boring or perhaps even infuriating – but for the people it actually affects, the people who have to fight against the stereotypes of who they are, who have seen white fans wear fake ceremonial headdresses and ‘war paint’ to games (this was only banned by the Chicago Blackhawks last year!), it presumably matters a lot.
Portland has decided to close that chapter of their WHL history by changing its look and it’s long past due that Chicago considers doing it at the NHL level.