The fight over sports teams using Indian/First Nations names and logos shifted to an unlikely battleground this week – Sweden.
A Stockholm man complained to Sweden’s Discrimination Ombudsman and demanded that the Frolunda Indians Hockey Club change its name and ditch its logo – an angry-looking Indian/First Nations member wearing a red, white, green, and black feather headdress.
“I want to report their logo to you and I want to demand that it is changed because it is offensive to all Indians and it uses a stereotypical image of Indians,” the complainant wrote to the ombudsman, according to a story reported by The Local in Sweden.
But the complaint was dropped because “We arrived at the conclusion that it was not covered by Swedish discrimination law,” Clas Lundstedt, a press spokesman for the ombudsman, told The Local. “Discrimination is defined in the legislation as somebody being disadvantaged or treated worse than another person in a similar situation and that has not happened in this case.”
He added: “This case could perhaps be related to freedom of speech legislation or similar, but that is not covered by laws on discrimination, so it is nothing that is within our remit.”
Frolunda is a member of the Swedish Hockey League. The team’s alums include New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and former Buffalo Sabres forward Christian Ruuttu. Lundqvist’s twin brother, Joel, a former Dallas Stars center, played for Frolunda in 2014-15.
Frolunda adopted the “Indians” name and image about 20 years ago as a tribute to the team’s aggressive playing style which was described as “Wild West Tactics.” Peter Pettersson Kymmer, the team’s media manager, told Radio Sweden that he doesn’t believe that Frolunda’s name and logo are disparaging.
“We think our symbol and name communicate something entirely different, like courage, passion and fellowship,” he said.
Pettersson Kymmer’s comments sound similar to those of management of North American sports teams. The National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks, Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves, and the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins have resisted calls to change their names or logos.
Daniel Snyder, owner of Washington’s NFL team, has been under pressure by several Indian/First Nations groups, many members of Congress, and others to change his team’s name and remove the Indian head logo from the team’s helmets.
Media outlets like the New York Daily News, The Seattle Times, The Washington Post editorial board, The San Francisco Chronicle, and online sites Slate and Mother Jones no longer refer to the team by its name.
The U.S. Patent Office canceled the Washington football team’s trademark registration last June. But Snyder has vowed not to change the team’s name.
“A Redskin is a football player. A Redskin is our fans. The Washington Redskins fan base represents honor, represents respect, represents pride. Hopefully winning,” Synder told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” last year.
Frolunda management said they don’t intend to change their team’s name, either.
“The answer is no, but then I don’t know what will happen 10, 20, 30 years from now,” Pettersson Kymmer told Radio Sweden.
While the fight over Washington football team rages and the flap over Frolunda’s name generates headlines, Chicago’s NHL team doesn’t seem to get as much heat for its name and distinctive Indian head logo.
Last August, a seven-person panel from The Hockey News ranked Chicago’s logo as tops among the NHL’s 30 teams.
“What differentiates this logo from the Washington Football Club – and why there is not
great controversy around it – is that it honors a great chief and does so with a sophisticated, artful design,” The Hockey News’ Rory Boylen wrote last August. “It’s not a cartoon like Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians and the team’s nickname that it represents isn’t the outright slur Washington’s is. This name and logo honors the memory of a great Native American chief who stood up to the injustices inflicted upon his people.”
The Blackhawks have forged a relationship with the American Indian Center of Chicago over the years and the team has “a genuine and ongoing dialogue with the native community in Illinois and for that we respect them,” center general counsel Scott Sypolt told USA Today last year.
“There is a clear distinction,” Sypolt added, “between sports teams that depict Native Americans as caricatures and red, screaming savages…If you look at Chief Wahoo, you have the big lips, the exaggerated nose and the beady eyes.”
Still, several folks believe that it’s time for the Blackhawks to take a new nickname and logo. “Clearly, no right-thinking person would name a team after an aboriginal figure these days,” Toronto Star hockey columnist Damien Cox wrote in 2010, “any more than they would use Muslims or Africans or Chinese or any ethnic group to depict a specific sporting notion.”