An organization that oversees hundreds of hockey teams in Manitoba will consider revising its regulations to allow it to compel teams with controversial or racist names to change them.
Hockey Manitoba members are expected to discuss that possibility on Wednesday as a means of ensuring the sport is inclusive in the province.
Executive director Peter Woods put the item on the agenda and said it could enable the group to force resistant teams to drop names with racist connotations.
“Everyone needs to be conscious and sensitive to any type of prejudice or racial discrimination,” said Woods.
“I would like to think that nowadays people would be understanding and respectful of that and would make the changes for the right reasons.”
The discussion comes just days after Washington’s NFL franchise announced it will drop its name and logo, long criticized as being a racist depiction of Indigenous people.
In Manitoba, debate has resurfaced surrounding sports teams in Morden, including one with the same name Washington’s team is abandoning and a logo virtually identical to that of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks.
The southern Manitoba city’s senior men’s hockey team has resisted calls over the years to change the name. Last week, the mayor and community members repeated those calls once more.
Hockey Manitoba has been in talks with the organization for several years, said Woods.
“We’ve had this discussion with the organization in the past and nothing has become of it,” he said.
“So, you have to look at different ways and where you can make that change, and certainly a regulation change [for Hockey Manitoba] would be that possibility.”
On Tuesday, CBC News asked general manager of the Morden hockey team whether the club has decided to change its name since the mayor and others spoke out.
“We are working on a process within our club members and will advise the direction we are going soon,” Brent Meleck wrote in an email.
Old issue, renewed focus
The Morden Mohawks, a senor men’s baseball team, announced last week it will be doing away with its moniker. That follows a 2005 decision by the local school division trustees to turf the same name for Morden Collegiate sports teams.
Hockey Manitoba isn’t currently involved in team name selection or approval, but Woods said there is still an expectation that names not be offensive or disrespectful “in any manner.”
A name or phrase that might have seemed acceptable to some people decades ago may no longer be widely accepted today, and it’s important for teams to change with the times, he said.
“Just because that term might not be offensive to you … that doesn’t mean that can’t be offensive to somebody else and we have to recognize that.”
Will to change names
He said there is will to make broad changes in the amateur sports world and at Hockey Manitoba, pointing to a move by Hockey Canada and its provincial branches to stop using age category names considered offensive to little people.
He said it’s disappointing that there isn’t universal agreement on the issue, citing organizations that suggest their names embody an ideal, or honour a group or historical person.
“They say that they’re honouring that particular name, which I think is false praise and I don’t think that’s accurate,” Woods said.
“You might be seeing it that way, but you might not be a representative of that particular group, which a lot of people are that play on some of those teams.”
Last week, Chicago’s NHL squad sounded a similar refrain in justifying its refusal to change, saying its nickname and logo celebrate “an important and historic person.”
‘Make the right decision’
Hockey Manitoba only makes regulatory changes in January at its semi-annual general meeting. The issue will resurface then, and if the new regulation passes a vote, it could come into effect as early as fall 2021, said Woods.
He said the discussion or potential rule change isn’t designed to target one particular group. He also said Hockey Manitoba wouldn’t relish the opportunity to force such a change, including with the Morden hockey team.
“You get a lot more mileage, I think, if they recognize their errors and the words and the terms that they’re using and they make that change themselves,” he said.
“Hopefully they can see the light here and make the right decision.”