Edmonton’s CFL team will discontinue the use of the word “Eskimo” in the team’s name, the board of directors announced Tuesday.
“People who defended the name only a year ago are less comfortable with it now,” board chair Janice Agrios said at a news conference.
“Institutions are being renamed around the world. The change to our name is part of a sweeping societal change.”
The club will use the names EE Football Team and Edmonton Football Team until a new name is found.
The team’s current name has been criticized as insensitive or even racist and Agrios said the team’s most recent opinion research showed that views about the name are shifting quickly.
“No one event sparked the decision. We’ve had open conversations with partners, community and fans about this issue for several years now. We’re proud of the engagement that we’ve done.”
WATCH | Edmonton CFL team to change name:
Recent threats by sponsors to withdraw support if the team did not change its name played a secondary role in the decision, she said.
The move also follows the National Football League team in Washington announcing last week it will retire its name and logo after pressure from sponsors.
Agrios said that though the name was always used respectfully and was part of the team’s identity, the organization has, in recent years, come to understand the concerns surrounding its use.
“We know that those who originally named the team did not intend to be disrespectful or derogatory — in fact, the very opposite,” she said.
“They were proud to associate themselves with such a resilient northern people. The alliteration of the two words, our northern location — the name felt like a natural fit.
“However, while we might relate to Inuit values, that doesn’t mean we can continue to use this name.”
Natan Obed, president of the national Inuit organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said he was pleased about the change, emphasizing that Inuit are people and not sports mascots or monikers.
“Indigenous people have had to endure systemic racism from the time Canada has been formed, and it has many different avenues,” Obed said. “This is just closing one of those avenues for systemic racism to exist.”
Inuit have long had to fight for self-determination in Canada, Obed said, including fighting to be able to speak on their own behalf and not have their likeness or name used by another group.
“We are stamping out colonialism and we are replacing it with Inuit self-determination,” he said.
Obed added that he hopes the work Edmonton’s CFL team has put into building stronger ties to Inuit communities in Canada continues even after the name change.
Search for new name begins
The team will begin a “comprehensive engagement process” to find a new name.
Team president and CEO Chris Presson said he believes fans will continue to support the club no matter the name and called for unity rather than divisiveness.
“This is tough for long-time fans, no question, but here’s the thing: we’re all a team. Our team, and game day itself, are designed to unite people … to bring people together for a half day so they can leave their worries and struggles behind.”
The process will involve research and “input from season seat holders, casual ticket purchasers and partners,” the team said.
Presson noted the team was not far into the process and could not give a specific timeline, but said the chance to choose a new name “that captures those Edmonton values” was a great opportunity and that the list of possibilities was growing every day.
The team said the green-and-gold team colours and the EE logo will be part of the discussions.
The name change comes more than 70 years after the team was founded in 1949. Dan Mason, University of Alberta professor of sport management, said sports teams are often reluctant to make major changes like this because they worry they’ll alienate their existing fans.
But this presents an opportunity to bring in new fans, Mason said. The die-hard sports fan demographic is getting older, he said, and engaging Edmontonians in naming the team could bring in people who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in the sport.
“Having an offensive name would just be one more reason not to follow the team or follow the game,” Mason said.
This change is a long time coming after many Inuit opposed the team name for years, said Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, the MP for Nunavut. She added there shouldn’t have been any debate over removing the name in the first place.
“My message was that Inuit and Inuit alone should decide whether or not this term was derogatory and that this conversation was being forced upon us by an outsider, by a CFL professional sports team that makes millions of dollars,” Qaqqaq said.
“That is only the very beginning. It’s not even the window into the bigger picture, it’s like a peephole, if that, into the much, much bigger picture of systemic racism.”