Iremember a couple of years ago in the Blackhawks’ locker room at the United Center when center Jonathan Toews approached me during an interview session.
“Please don’t stand on the Indian head,’’ he said, riveting me with that “Captain Serious’’ look.
I didn’t realize it, but in the midst of the scrum, I had stepped on the Hawks’ logo embroidered in the carpet in the center of the room.
I stepped off. Toews left.
Soon after, the ‘‘Chief’’ was marked off with movie-theater-type velvet ropes, possibly to deter clods like me from besmirching him.
So it seems pretty solid that the Chicago National Hockey League team deeply respects its nickname and logo.
But is that enough?
The Cleveland Indians, we recently found out, will after next season be no more. It’s for sure most current and past players and fans respect that longtime nickname. But the name is offensive to enough Native Americans that after more than a century, it will be replaced by, well, we don’t know what yet.
One of the unhappy gags going around is that, yes, the Cleveland Indians name is very offensive. Therefore the team will now be known just as the Indians.
You get the point.
Every few years, it seems, we go through these spasms of name-cleansing and sanitizing of sins of the past. And with that comes the anger such changes stir up.
Back in the day, Stanford and Dartmouth, among other colleges, dropped their Indians nickname after deciding it was offensive. So did lots of high schools. Many alums were upset.
The throes of anguish we went through en route to Chief Illiniwek (though not the Fighting Illini name itself) being erased from University of Illinois culture was painful for lots of folks.
The U of I’s “Chief’’ was dropped as a mascot back in 2007. Yet 13 years later, there’s still a movement to bring him back, with a dedicated Facebook page stating, ‘‘Stop the politically correct thought police from violating this great tradition.’’
There’s a point to be made on that side, of course.
The question is, does it override what is painful or possibly dehumanizing to a smaller, less vocal and less powerful group? No.
Cleveland’s owner and chairman, Paul Dolan, said in a statement that after hearing from civic leaders and Native American coalitions, “we gained a deep understanding of how tribal communities feel about the team name and the detrimental effects it has on them.”
In short, as has been explained many times before, marginalized people don’t like being seen as cartoons. Or even as romanticized heroes. They want to be taken seriously, as humans.
The entire front page of Monday’s USA Today and ensuing stories detailed how the coronavirus is decimating Native American populations almost the way Spanish conquistadors did with disease and gunpowder.
The U.S. government has broken treaty after treaty with Native Americans, and, of course, it has marched them onto reservations far from their native lands and barely recompensed them for what was stolen. With such historical perspective in mind, writes USA Today, the ghastly death toll from the virus among Native Americans ‘‘isn’t a matter of coincidence, poor choices or bad luck — it’s by design.’’
Yet running hand in hand with our nation’s owning up to its racist past comes the disorientation that others — many of them white males, studies have shown — feel from losing traditions and values from the past that they may never have examined but feel adrift without. And it makes them mad.
You get rid of these things we grew up with, they’re saying, and you’re taking my country from me. This “cultural anxiety,’’ studies have shown, is one of the main reasons for much of America’s descent into populism, conspiracy belief and support for the xenophobia of Donald Trump.
“It used to be a pretty good deal to be a white, Christian male in America, but things have changed,” one of the writers of a just-published National Academy of Sciences study on identity status told the New York Times.
A clearly offensive nickname such as “Redskins’’ has been dumped by the Washington NFL team. And it should have been gone years ago.
But times always evolve, and many people worry about what comes next. This is a delicate thing. It’s almost as if one group can’t move up without another group feeling like it’s moving down. And that’s dangerous.
Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs and — who knows? — maybe someday Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Minnesota Vikings, Vancouver Canucks, Boston Celtics, even New York Yankees could be on the block.
And the storied, proud Blackhawks?
Yes, them, too. Believe it.