Teams with Native American names and logos have been the subject of public scrutiny as early as the 1960’s. In more recent years, the scrutiny and public push for change have come in waves- intensifying then fading from our collective conscience without much changing. Last year, however, the Cleveland Indians finally retired their offensive “Chief Wahoo” logo.
But there is one logo in sports that somehow eludes any criticism despite having a history deeply rooted in racism. The New Orleans Saints logo, the fleur-de-lis, is a symbol of slavery around the world and should be removed from their uniforms.
The fleur-de-lis is a Catholic symbol the French, a historically Catholic nation, adopted as a large part of their national motif and identity. The fleur-de-lis made its way to Louisiana when the French colonized the region in the early 1700’s. From Mardi Gras, the food, the architecture, and of course, the fleur-de-lis, the French influence is still deeply ingrained in Louisiana’s culture.
The fleur-de-lis had many uses, but the most sinister was in the slave trade. The fleur-de-lis was used to brand slaves, like cattle, as discipline for attempting to escape. The practice took place not just in Louisiana, but French settlements around the world. The symbol was branded on slaves so if they did escape, there would be no mistaking to whom they belonged.
That same symbol now adorns the uniforms of predominately black men who sacrifice their bodies for a sport that makes their ultra-wealthy, elite “owners” a fortune. Oh, and 30 of those 32 team owners are white. And there are no black team owners.
The symbolism is eerie and almost too on-the-nose to believe it is an accident.
The fleur-de-lis is no different than the other historically racist symbols that are still used today to intimidate and promote hate, such as the swastika or the Confederate flag. These symbols have become monuments to the racist, hateful heyday of yesteryear.
People opposed to the calls for the change of the team’s logo, often lament the “PC culture” of today. They often cite the history of the team, saying that the logo has been there for decades and no one has had a problem with it until today. The problem with that logic is that, first of all, it is wrong. Native Americans have been criticizing the misappropriation of their culture for sports team’s names and logos for decades.
Secondly, these logos and names did not become offensive overnight. They have always been offensive, it is just that minority groups have never had a voice to tell the majority group that is the case. But, as we move toward a more inclusive, socially-just society, these minority groups have been trying to educate us and tell us what is offensive to them. It is time we listen.
There is nothing wrong with making changes that are meant to create a more inclusive and empathetic society. The loss of a team nickname that is a racial slur, or a logo that was once branded on the bodies of slaves is a small price to pay to avoid offending historically marginalized groups of people.