10 of the Most Controversial Team Names in Sporting History

The logo of the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League (NHL).  Editorial credit: dean bertoncelj / Shutterstock.com
The logo of the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League (NHL). Editorial credit: dean bertoncelj / Shutterstock.com

Many of these sports teams were named at a time when institutional racism or tension was not recognized and given proper discourse within society. Many of the teams featured on this list feature stereotypical names involving race, and more specifically, the native aboriginal races. A lot of people argue that this type of institutionalized stereotyping of race leads to further marginalization within society. Take a look at some of the most controversial and offensive sports team names in history below.

10. Washington Redskins

The Washington Redskins is a team that plays in the National Football League (NFL) of the United States and has been using this name and logo since 1937. The controversy stems from the meaning of the word "redskin", a term that has been deemed to have an offensive meaning towards the Native American peoples, and as such many tribes and native organizations have condemned the use of the name and image for decades.

9. Cleveland Indians

This logo draws criticism because it is seen as a racial stereotype in a caricature. Chief Wahoo, the character featured in the logo, depicts an Native American with red skin and large white teeth. Many Native American groups within the United States have called for the team to change their logo and name for the past 40 years. When the Cleveland Indians made the World Series in 2016 for the first time in 19 years, the logo was on full display for the entire country, and many have now called for it to be changed.

8. Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League (NHL) is perhaps the least offensive on this list. The Blackhawks are named after the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion that received the moniker of "Blackhawk Division," nicknamed after a Native America Chief of the same name. Chief Black Hawk was well-known for his bravery in the face of seemingly improbable odds.

7. Edmonton Eskimos

The Edmonton Eskimos are a professional gridiron team that plays in the Canadian Football League (CFL). The name of the team can be traced back over a century to 1903 and could have even been used as a team name as far back as 1892. The president of the National Inuit Organization of Canada (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami) has claimed that the term is derogatory and that is also symbolizes colonialist policies of racism. The term Inuit is much preferred by people of this origin, with the term eskimo now considered to be somewhat offensive.

6. Seattle Thunderbirds

The Seattle Thunderbirds are a junior ice-hockey team that competes in the Western Hockey League (WHL). Their logo consists of a carving of a thunderbird, a legendary Native American creature, with various Native American imagery such as warpaint and feathers resembling that of a war bonnet imposed within the logo. The team is the reigning WHL champion and is known for their loyal and reasonably sized fan base. Their team name and logo have managed to stay relatively uncontroversial and under the radar as, as a junior hockey team, they are nowhere near the financial juggernaut of some other organizations within this article.

5. Bristol Aztecs

The Bristol Aztecs is a British based American football team that competes in the British American Football League (BAFL). The Aztecs were people who dominated large areas of Mexico from the 14th to 16th centuries. The logo for the team is one that conjures up images of indigenous cultures and practices although this team is based all the way over in England, which makes the name choice somewhat confusing. Fans of the team will also use imagery and costumes to portray an 'Aztec' while watching games. The Aztec people may be long gone, but this logo is still be seen as offensive due to the appropriation of indigenous imagery.

4. Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs are an American football team that plays in the National Football League (NFL). Their early mascot was eventually replaced in 1989, however their name and logo remain. The logo consists of an arrowhead and tomahawk which are both cultural symbols of the Native American people. Many fans of the Chiefs will also dress up as Native American stereotypes to attend games. Some pundits have suggested that Kansas City should be the first team in the NFL to change their name and lead the way in terms of changing these types of names within professional sports.

3. Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves baseball team plays in Major League Baseball's National (MLB) League and the team has been known as such since 1912. The original name was meant to signify a term for a Native American warrior. Their logo also uses culturally sensitive imagery such as a tomahawk which is seen as inappropriate due to the organization gaining profit from uniform and merchandise sales that carry the image. The organization had what they called Chief Noc-A-Homa as a mascot from 1950 until 1986. Although many thought it was playful mix Native American names and baseball terminology, many found the mascot's name and costume offensive.

2. McGill Redmen

The McGill Redmen is the name given to many different men's sports teams from the University of McGill in Montreal, Canada. Many from the university will claim that the original Redmen sports teams name came from the fact that the athletes wore red clothing, and that only 2 of the 48 sports teams using the Redman name in the history of the university have used logos that feature some sort of aboriginal imagery. However, that it was not actually a racist name for the . However, the term is generally used as a racist name for the aboriginal people of Canada, and many people believe the name should be changed to something less offensive.

1. Florida State Seminoles

A Seminole is a member of a Native American tribe located in Florida and are also well known for their bravery and perseverance. For almost 70 years, Florida State University has named it's sports teams after a Native American tribe, the Seminoles. Several representatives met with the university in the 1980s and 1990s and actually gave their blessing to use Seminole imagery for the university's sports teams. However, some of the Seminole disagree with the use of their cultural imagery.


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