By Phil Hecken
Uni Watch (and ESPN, via Paul) have recently done some in-depth investigation of the relationships between American sports teams who use either Native American names (racist or not), iconography and logos, and attempted to engage in discussion of the way teams interact (if at all) with the native populations from whom their names, symbols or logos are derived. While we in the United States might like to think we have a monopoly on this issue, we’re far from alone here.
Recently, I was approached by Uni Watch reader Caleb Borchers (whose name you may recognize from numerous ticker submissions dealing with Rugby uniforms, and with whom I’ve worked before), who asked if I would be interested in an article he had written on a very interesting topic. Specifically, Caleb asked me, “All the talk about the Native American issue on Uni Watch got me to thinking about something in my own corner of the uniform world that I find interesting. As I’ve done in the past, I worked a little something up, in part to help me think through it.”
“Wow” I said. He continued, “You’d be welcome to use it if it would help you in your weekend programming. A little farther afield than things I’ve contributed in the past, but still connected in my mind.”
With that, I’m pleased to present to you this tremendous piece from Caleb. Sit back as we…
Meet the Chiefs
By Caleb Borchers
Over the last few months, the issue of Native American imagery in US sports has been a hot topic in the Uni Watch community. Sadly, that discussion often devolves into heavily stereotyped positions and name calling. I often feel for writers like Paul, because his fascinating and nuanced position quickly is flattened out. What follows is my attempt to add another data point or scenario to the discussion.
Some Uni Watch readers may recognize my name in connection with rugby, particularly New Zealand rugby. That nation and sport have a special place in my heart. New Zealand is a nation with a fascinating history when it comes to the indigenous people, the Maori. The relationship between European settlers and the Maori people has often been sad and tragic. Still, there are ways in which New Zealand has better handled the issue than other places. A treaty between settlers and Maori chiefs, the Treaty of Waitangi, serves as the founding document of the country.
The treaty is still law and a tribunal investigates failures to follow through on the treaty. About one in every eight people in New Zealand are Maori and the Maori population is growing at a faster rate than the European population. When you compare to nations like Australia (2.5% indigenous population) and the USA (1%) clearly the Maori have flourished proportionally. Many government buildings have English and Maori signage. “God Defend New Zealand” is sung first in Maori. The haka is a point of national pride in the sporting world. These are small things and Maori people still have many legitimate complaints about their treatment historically and currently. Still, there is a level of awareness and respect in New Zealand’s culture that most Americans do not have about the USA’s indigenous peoples.
In this context, we turn our attention to the Chiefs, a professional franchise that began in 1995. Their logo and colors are largely derivative of those of the Waikato region in which they are based. The Chiefs represent much of the middle of the northern island of New Zealand, including areas, such as Rotorua, which are renowned for their connection to Maori culture and populations. The logo shows a Maori chief carrying the traditional kotiate weapon. The kotiate was used in warfare, but also plays a role in speech giving. The logo clearly plays on stereotypes of the Maori people and their violent past.
In 2011, the Chiefs hired a new coaching staff, led by coach Dave Rennie. One thing that the new staff did was try to connect the team with the Maori population, culture, and history that the team’s logo invokes. These efforts included using Maori names and philosophical concepts as a framework for their various game plan elements, as well as using tribal names in their team organization. The fact that many of the Chiefs players are Maori (or at least qualify for participation with the Maori All Blacks) helps.
As the 2012 season went on, the team began to include more Maori elements in their uniforms and identity. Their early season jersey had added sublimated Maori designs by the end of the year. They continued to include Maori cultural performers at the games. Most unexpected was the Chiefs’ development of their very own haka. While many schools have their own hakas, and the national teams have their own, this was a first at Super Rugby level. The team quietly created and practiced the haka and debuted it only after winning the 2012 Super Rugby final. For good measure Hika Elliot, who led the haka, brought along props (that’s him on the far right). Chiefs players have created a broader relationship with the cultural group who aided them in the haka creation and some players attend haka competitions to support the group, just like they attend Chief games.
Already in 2013 the Chiefs are continuing their connection to Maori culture. As part of their preseason training they followed a path connected to a historic Maori migration. The trip included not only exercise, but some time to connect with traditional Maori communities.
The way the Chiefs connect with the Maori is fascinating in the discussion of the use of Native American imagery. On the one hand, the issues still don’t go away. The Chiefs still are profiting from imagery and traditions they don’t own. In many ways they continue to perpetuate an image of Maori culture connected to violence and savagery. One could also challenge how appropriate it is to use traditional cultural elements in commercial contexts. Should they really pay Maori performers to come to games, like some sort of indigenous cheerleaders? Should the haka be used in a way similar to the Lakers Girls dance team?
On the other side, the amount of respect, time, and energy that is put into the Chiefs connection to the Maori culture is remarkable. Someone has clearly spent time studying Maori culture, philosophy, and values. The haka and cross country training trek are two gestures that took incredible forethought and time. Given how jealous most coaches are of every moment of practice time, Rennie has shown that he at least appreciates team culture and bonding better than most. Whatever the appropriateness of the connection between sport and the Maori, one cannot blame the Chiefs for doing it in a way that is neither cheap nor easy. Some of these initiatives are also being fueled by Maori players, like former New Zealand Maori captain and Chief co-captain Liam Messam.
What if this sort of concern was shown in American contexts? More than just some guy in a headdress throwing a javelin into the turf, what if Florida State required all student athletes to take a course in Seminole culture? What if the Cleveland Indians regularly were involved with Erie tribe youths? Would it be appropriate for the Blackhawks to have an Illini song performed during games? Is American culture too divorced from that of Native American tradition to make this possible?
The Chiefs story over the last two years is evidence that use of indigenous peoples’ imagery and names does not have to be crass, cheap, and easy. Some issues remain, but it seems far more palatable than what American sports fans see.
Thanks, Caleb. Great piece! Readers? What say you?
We have another new set of tweaks, er…concepts today. After discussion with a number of readers, it’s probably more apropos to call most of the reader submissions “concepts” rather than tweaks. So that’s that.
So if you’ve concept for any sport, or just a tweak or wholesale revision, send them my way.
Please do try to keep your descriptions to ~50 words (give or take) per image — if you have three uniform concepts in one image, then obviously, you can go a little over, but no novels, OK? OK!. You guys have usually been good with keeping the descriptions pretty short, and I thank you for that.
Like the colorizations, I’m going to run these as inline pics — click on each one to enlarge.
And so, lets begin:
We begin today with Dan Martell, who has some new looks for the Brooklyn Isles:
Hope the holiday’s have treated you well.
Well today I’ve been stuck inside due to the snow storm hitting the east coast so I decided to pass the time tweeking the Islanders uniform in preparation for the eventual Brooklyn move.
Future Home: For this uniform, as well as the away, you can see I’ve pretty much left the original color scheme and design. However the big change I made was the logo on the uniform itself. I’ve taken the Islanders logo and changed it to have a bit of a Brooklyn twist. The full logo can be seen as the fifth picture in the show.
Future Away: As previously stated, I’ve kept the overall uniform scheme the same but have updated the jersey logo. (I’d love for the NHL, if it ever returns, to switch back to the white home jersey)
Future Alt Home: Now with these uniforms you can see a complete new look for the Islanders. With the team moving to Brooklyn, home of the Nets, I’ve opted to use the Nets template as the basis for the Isles. The primary color is black with silver and white sleeve and sock stripes. Another significant change is the uniform logo. In the logo I took the Brooklyn Nets logo border and took the Islanders light house alternate logo from the mid 1990s and blended the two.
Future Alt Away: Similar changes to the Alt Home but the logo is black instead of grey.
Hope you enjoy looking at these,
Have a great New Year,
Next up is Jonah (No last name Given), with a new court design for the Blazers:
This is a new Portland Trail Blazers court design for next year that I designed, adding more color and design to what is currently a fairly boring court. I added more red and black, and in addition, added silver for the accents around the key and inside the key. The mid court logo stays the same, while adding rip city on each end of the floor. The outside border of the court switches from black to red, while the key is primarily black with red at the top. Also, assuming the Blazers new alternate uni’s for this season become the new set for all of their jerseys next season, I put the new typeface used on the jersey on the baselines of the court. Ideally, one of the baselines would say trailblazers, but I could not find an example of that in the new typeface. Sorry for the sloppy job, did this in a hurry, but I hope you enjoy it none the less.
And we close today with Kevin Wos who seems to have big plans for the NHL:
In celebration of the NHL lockout ending, I’ve decided to Nike-fy the whole league. First up is the Blackhawks, the changes to which are very limited because you don’t fix what isn’t broken.
And that’s it for today. Back with more next time.
Because we love the stirrup here at Uni Watch, this section is devoted to those of us who sport the beautiful hose on Fridays — a trend popularized many years ago by Robert P. Marshall, III. For many of us, it’s become a bit of an obsession, but a harmless one — a reflection of our times. Where we once had Friday ties, which has been replaced by Casual Friday — we now have Stirrup Fridays. It’s an endearingly simple concept — no matter where you work (or even if you don’t) — break out a fresh pair of rups to compliment (or clash with) your Friday attire.
Things are picking up, now that pitcher & catchers have reported and Spring Training is underway. We also had the very unfortunate passing of UW stalwart Mike Hersh a little over a week ago…so some of the ‘ruppers decided to honor him, as you’ll see. And, of course, Tuesday was Pączki day. And you know what that means, right?… Here we go:
Clara Jane was baptized earlier today. I went with the Uni Watch originals. After Terry Proctor’s suggestion, I donned a black memorial band for Mike Hersh.
The boots hide the fact that they are indeed stirrups, but it was nice knowing they were there.
I’m wearing these all week. I may not have known Mike personally, but he sure Got It™, and we’ll all miss him.
Dave (Last Name withheld upon request):
Here my Fat Tuesday edition of Stirrup Friday.
My Paczki stirrups with my Polish Paczki treat.
Please just include first name Dave if posted on UW…..trying to stay off grid.
Dziekuje (Thank you in Polish)
Since Spring Training is underway, I am marking the occasion with the official Uni Watch Stirrup. No better way to mark the return of baseball.
I am proudly wearing the Uni Watch stirrups today. With only a few repeats, I was able to make it all the way from the World Series to pitchers and catchers with a different pair each week. Kind of helps bridge the off season, and the UW ‘rups are a fitting finale. It is also fitting (but sad) that the memorial stripes for Mike Hersh grace the UW ‘rups.
Going with Red Sox stirrups under boots today. No reason but ended up being more comfortable than I thought it would be.
Thanks for all your hard work on Uni-Watch, I’ve been an avid reader for a while now.
Heading to the Cincinnati-Georgetown game tonight, so I broke out the red and black ‘rups. Go Bearcats.
My stirrup Friday couldn’t be “public,” per se, but I was rocking them under my uniform anyways! I live in Delaware and I picked up some Wilmington Blue Rocks stirrups after I saw them on their site.
Comrade Robert Marshall:
In honour of my favourite holiday, pączki day, I hopped the #8 bus, and traveled a few blocks to a bakery across the street from the olde Union Stockyards for an assorted box of stuffed and fried dough. Now that is a pączki!
And that ends today’s look at Stirrup Friday — all of you who participate, send me your pics and a brief (~50 words) description of their relevance, and I’ll run ’em here on Saturday (and sometimes Sunday too!). Be sure to visit Robert’s House of Hose for news on rups. Wanna see what’s new this week? CLICK HERE!
And now…here’s …
First off, it is time to give away the last two Uni Watch stirrups for the photos that Phil has posted over the last month. James Poisso clearly deserved one for not only his dedication to stirrup Friday (which he’s sporting today), but taking the time to document it every week. In addition, I absolutely loved this tilt shift photo from Soukie Outhavong clearing snow, it is so perfectly in the spirit of stirrup friday.
As for the revolution, the first of three large orders from TCK has shipped to me and will be here Monday, so the Orioles, Cardinals, Rays, Astros, Phillies, Red Sox, and Braves are back in stock. Part of this first order was the cycling stirrup, so those will ship out early next week.
On Friday I ordered some 1954 White Sox, but I will not be taking the discounted pre-orders for a week or two. The factory is so busy that manufacturing times are running long, so consider this is a heads up that these will be the discounted “new” selection soon.
from each according his stirrvp,
to each according his strype.
Just Pull It
One of the sadder (and possibly sordid) stories of the past couple days, which seemed to fly below the radar, was the news that Oscar Pistorius, olympian and Nike-sponsored athlete — the “fastest man on no legs” (and wonderful story) — was arrested and charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. If you’re not familiar with the story, you can read about it here.
We’ve discussed Pistorius on Uni Watch a few times, most recently during the Summer Olympics, where keen observers noticed that Nike had branded Pistorius’ running blades (here’s what the bottom of the blade looks like; here’s another view). Not surprisingly, Nike also built some branding campaigns around Pistorius, especially leading up to the London Olympics.
One such ad featured a very unfortunate and ironic tag line, in light of the shooting death of Pistorius’ girlfriend. That had, until Thursday, been featured on Pistorius’ website — it’s since been taken down. I’ve searched several articles posted on the Interwebs, but I’ve still been unable to determine if it was actually Nike who pulled the ad, or someone else. Either way, it’s no longer on Pistorius’ site. I’d like to think it was Nike who did so.
Other sponsors are also removing Pistorius’ image from other ads. Clearly, until such time as this case is resolved, the man is toxic.
I remember when I first heard of Oscar Pistorius at least five years ago (he had been trying to qualify for the non-para-Olympic portion of the 2008 Beijing Olympics), and hoping he’d be allowed in. He did qualify for London, but unfortunately, his dreams of winning gold were dashed. He really seemed like a good guy to root for. Now, at least, it seems his amazing life is about to come crashing down. Too bad.
If Nike did yank the spot, I am glad, and I hope it was done due to the serious nature of the charges against Pistorius, and the message conveyed by the ad. Yes, the “I am the bullet in the chamber” refers both to a sprinter in the blocks about to explode in a race and to the starter’s pistol, and not to guns, per se. Still, in light of the way Pistorius’ girlfriend was murdered, it was at best in bad taste, and at worst, ironically worded.
Good on Nike (if they did it) for removing the ad. In my dream world I’m picturing this exchange between two Nike ad execs:
Ad Guy #1: “Oh wow. Did you see that Oscar Pistorius was arrested for murdering his girlfriend? Do you think we should yank that ‘I am the bullet’ ad?”
Ad Guy #2: “Just Do It”
And that’s going to do it for today. Hey! It’s NBA All Star Weekend, so there’s lot of stuff happening at that event. I might even watch some of the contests and shit. No, really. And I’ll have a look at the unis AND…the most awaited Uni Watch column of the year (almost as popular as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue) — Matt Powers’ annual review of the ASG kicks! Woo-hoo!!!
Every one have a great Saturday, and I will catch you fine folks tomorrow.
“One of the big problems I have with Nike is that they constantly appropriate cultural imagery, absent of any context, solely to move product. They rarely get called on it. (The LeBron as Christ billboard that graced Cleveland for many years is one example. Calling a pair of women’s sneakers ‘Incubus’ is another, one of the rare times the Swoosh got tripped up.) Another 50 or 60 years, and you’ll probably get away with Third Reich sportswear.”