So, the NHL and adidas revealed something called Reverse Retro ‘jerseys’ for next season. So much to unpack here. First, what the hell does Reverse Retro even mean? Second, they’re sweaters, not jerseys and I’ll take that one to my grave.
But on a far more serious note, check out the Chicago Blackhawks’ reveal. Because if you didn’t know any better, you’d think the league was trying to slide it past everyone without people noticing.
On its Twitter feed, the league sent out a separate tweet with a still image of each team’s reveal. For 30 of the teams, the logo is front and center on the image. For the Blackhawks, people get to see only the back of the sweater. The video of the Blackhawks reveal isn’t much better. You’d literally have to freeze the image on your screen to get a clear viewing of the front of the logo. It’s that quick. At one point in the video, the camera zooms in on the middle of the sweater, but at that moment, the model conveniently adjusts his sleeve so that his arm is completely obscuring the logo. The only sustained shot is a side shot that only partially shows the Blackhawks logo. The league later tweeted out an image of the Original 6 sweaters with a front view of the Blackhawk logo and the Blackhawks retweeted an image from their store with another front view.
Why the mixed messaging? Because this is a league that likes to pay lip service to social activism, but when the rubber hits the road it’s scared silly of alienating its old-timey constituents. When athletes in other sports were refusing to play in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake in August, the NHL responded with a 27-second “moment of reflection,” and was only saved from embarrassment when the players seized the agenda. This was a league that could not even once bring itself to say Black Lives Matter.
Either you embrace your racism and cultural appropriation or you don’t. What the NHL and the Blackhawks are doing when they try to pull these sleights-of-hand is the worst way to go. Saying out of one side of your mouth that you’re socially progressive, then declaring out the other side that when it comes to making money, you’re perfectly OK to appropriate Native American imagery for the sake of entertainment and revenues.
(Full disclosure. In 2008 and 2014, staff members at THN ranked all 30 NHL logos and the Blackhawks was the No. 1 logo on both occasions. I honestly don’t remember whether I participated in either of these exercises and if I did, which logo I chose. The story that went with the ranking in 2014 said, “we were basically in full agreement which team would be No. 1,” then went on to say, “The vibrant color combination and the respectful way it honors a WWWI battalion and a Native American chief sets this logo apart from the rest. If we handed out the Three Stars of these logo rankings, the Blackhawks’ logo would be one, two and three.” So there’s that. It’s pretty clear we have some reflecting to do as well.)
As recently as this summer, the Blackhawks defended both their name and their logo and made it clear they intend to continue on with both, saying it honors a real-life Native American. “The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public,” the team said in a release. “We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform and our work with these important organizations.”
Just last week, the Blackhawks released a video of a Chicago-born educator and activist, sharing her story and the significance of the Jingle dress as a healing dance. The Blackhawks are trying hard, really hard, to straddle both sides of the fence here. Regardless of what side of the debate you take, if you aren’t willing to show the team’s full logo for fear of negative scrutiny, perhaps it’s time to change it. Trying to tacitly hide it doesn’t work.
Both the Washington Football Club and the University of North Dakota have been dragged into modern times on this issue. If you want to argue that the Blackhawks are different because they allegedly honor rather than appropriate, have at it. And that appears to be what the NHL and the Blackhawks are doing. Both of them had a blank canvas here and had a golden opportunity to change the narrative with anything other than the Native American head. And they chose not to. The least they can do it stand by their choice.