CFL sponsor threatens to cut ties unless Edmonton changes team name

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CFL sponsor threatens to cut ties unless Edmonton changes team name

One of the sponsors of the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos says it will cut ties with the team unless it changes its name.

Longtime sponsor Belairdirect, a car and home insurance company and one of the team’s 13 premier partners, said Tuesday the team’s name, which has been used since the late 19th century, is no longer appropriate.

“One of our core values is respect, which is founded on seeing diversity as a strength, being inclusive and collaborative,” the company said in a statement to CBC News.

“Guided by this value, in order for us to move forward and continue on with our partnership, we will need to see concrete action in the near future including a commitment to a name change.”

Belairdirect’s statement said the company has shared its position with the team.

A spokesperson within the Eskimos organization told CBC Sports the team was preparing an internal statement that would likely be released Wednesday.

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Edmonton’s team has seen repeated calls for a name change in the past and faces renewed criticism as sports teams in Canada, the United States and elsewhere are urged to remove outdated and sometimes racist names and images.

The threat from Belairdirect comes days after the Washington NFL team’s stadium sponsor FedEx, along with other sponsors, asked the team to change its name.

The team responded by launching a review of its name. Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, who retired their racist caricature “Chief Wahoo” logo in 2018 but kept their name, and the National Football League’s Washington Redskins, whose name contains a racial slur, both said on Friday they would undertake a review.

In February, the Eskimos announced they were keeping their name, saying the team had conducted a year-long research process that involved Inuit leaders and community members across Canada. That study found “no consensus … to support a name change,” the team said.

Last Friday, the team reiterated that it would not change its name, but promised to increase its engagement with Inuit communities to evaluate their views on the CFL team’s name.

“We recognize that there has been increased attention to the name recently and we will ramp up our ongoing engagement with the Inuit communities to assess their views,” the CFL team said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks said they will continue to use their team name because it honours a Native American leader who has been an inspiration to generations.

 “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 NHL team said in a statement Tuesday. 

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Other sponsors welcomed review

Other sponsors welcomed any review of the team name.

A Jiffy Lube location in Edmonton supports the further engagement, wrote Kelly McClung, vice-president of marketing and operations for Lube-X and Jiffy Lube operator in Canada.

“We look forward to hearing feedback from their ongoing discussions,” she said.

Fisherman’s Friend also expressed support for the re-engagement.

“We … are looking forward to the timely and respectful progression of those conversations along with a positive outcome for all,” wrote Brian Riddell, who works with TFB & Associates Ltd., the Canadian distributor for the lozenges brand.

“We’re going to wait until the conclusion of the study that the team is doing to make any further decisions,” he said when asked whether Fisherman’s Friend would continue to partner with the team regardless of its name.

An Edmonton location of The Rec Room, an entertainment space owned by Cineplex, is also listed as a premier partner of the Eskimos.

Continuing the relationship “isn’t part of our marketing plans for 2020,” wrote Sarah Van Lange, Cineplex’s executive director of communications, in an email.

“That said, we support their review of the team’s name and encourage them to do the right thing.”

Asked what the right thing is, Van Lange referred back to the original statement. However, she noted the company’s locations were closed for several months due to the COVID-19 outbreak “and all marketing plans were put on hold during that time.”

Tim Hortons said it has “been in contact with the team, but they can best speak to their review process and engagement with Inuit communities.” It did not respond to questions about whether it intends to continue its partnership.

Coca-Cola Canada Bottling Ltd., which has a product partnership with the team, said it has spoken with team management and shared its concerns about the name

“We have asked them to strive for consensus about their name in their community engagement activities with Inuit communities as soon as possible,” spokeswoman Kathy Murphy said in an email.

There have been repeated calls for the Edmonton team to change its name in the past.

Most recently, Canada’s national Inuit organization in 2015 said it was time for a change. “It isn’t right for any team to be named after an ethnic group,” said Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents Canada’s 60,000 Inuit.

Edmonton mayor Don Iveson in 2017 said the team should take steps toward a name change, citing Obed’s statement.

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