Tag Archives: Racism

Ethnographic Hockey, Part 1: An Orange and Black Philadelphia

As part of my ongoing research into Native American culture, sports culture, and racism, I decided that I needed to go to a sporting event. My purpose in going was to make sure that I gain some kind of understanding about what sports mean to people and the role sports play in people’s lives. With the ongoing debate over the names of teams like the Washington Redskins (which some people argue mock Native American culture and others argue honors them), I feel that it’s important for me to get to know sports culture in order to understand the perspective of the people who say that their teams are part of a longstanding tradition.

On Tuesday, March 18th, I attended the Flyers vs Blackhawks game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. I tried to go in with an open mind. I’d never been to a hockey game before, and my previous experience with live sporting events had been sharply limited. My dad took me to two baseball games (Phillies vs Pirates and Phillies vs Expos (the Montreal Expos, I have since learned, are now renamed the Washington Nationals)) when I was a kid, and I don’t remember much of anything about them. One of my uncles took me to an Eagles game, and I only remember that it was really cold. Then, as an adult, I once took a girl to a New York Giants football game because she was a football fan and I wanted to impress her (it didn’t work). Attending a hockey game on this occasion was helpful because it is a sport I’m completely unfamiliar with (thus allowing me to enter with as few preconceptions as possible), though the fact that both football and baseball were out of season had a lot to do with the decision.

I bought my ticket online, after a fair bit of confusion navigating the ticket purchasing website. I eventually found that those attending the game can select whichever seat they like from an interactive stadium map that shows where each seat is located, how many seats are already empty or filled, and the seat’s position relative to the rink. I chose a seat in the mezzanine level (because those were the cheapest tickets), at a position I thought would give me an adequate view of the game: Section 222, Row 13, Seat 18.

I printed the ticket from my computer at home, though there is also an option to pick your tickets up at the box office.
I printed the ticket from my computer at home, though there is also an option to pick your tickets up at the box office.

I left early, wearing my NaNoWriMo hoodie and carrying my fieldnotes book in my pocket. I brought two pens, just in case. Which is a good thing, since one of them ran out of ink before the game even started. I ended up taking quite a lot of notes during the following five hours.

Excuse my poor handwriting.
Excuse my poor handwriting.
I filled up nearly the whole 180 page notebook.
I filled up nearly the whole 180 page notebook.

My goal during note-taking was to capture as much as I could about the people, their behavior, the way they talked, and the reactions they had during the game. However, I also spent a lot of time looking at the environment, since a stadium is a very unique setting not quite like any other.

I arrived at the Wells Fargo Center at 6:00 pm. I paid $16 for parking (which, I should note, is actually cheaper than the $21 parking price at the Penn Museum, which is only a short distance from the stadium). I noticed an advertisement for 1-800-Lundy-Law on the front of the parking lot ticket booth. When I first entered the parking lot, my initial reaction was confusion. There were parking spaces all around, but most of the lots were blocked off by barriers and orange cones, while lot attendants in neon orange vests waved the cars forward and directed us elsewhere. Uncertain where I was being led, I followed the line of cars in front of me until we circled nearly the whole building. Eventually, I was waved into a parking lot and found a spot. While the complexity of parking was at first confusing, it later became clear that it was a necessity. During the game it was announced that 19,932 people were in attendance, and with that many people, the parking situation could easily have descended into chaos without the aid of stadium employees telling us all where to go. The stadium has a maximum capacity of 21,660, which means it doesn’t get much more packed than it was that night (in fact, the announcement made on the JumboTron called it a “sell out”).

Upon my arrival in the parking lot, I already saw dozens of people dressed in orange and black clothes, hats, and jerseys. While not a hockey fan, I’m familiar enough with the Philadelphia Flyers to know that orange, black, and white are their team colors. I initially spotted only a few people wearing Blackhawks jerseys, which wasn’t surprising, since the game was taking place in Philly.

I took a few minutes while in the parking lot to just observe the area. The first thing I noticed was that there were several stadiums clumped together all in this same area. From the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center (which, according to banners hanging on the side of the building, hosts games for the Flyers, the Wings lacrosse team, and the 76ers basketball team), I could see the nearby Lincoln Financial Field (home of the Eagles football team), and the Citizens Bank Park (home of the Phillies baseball team). I have always found it curious that all of the stadiums in Philadelphia are named after banks. It also leads to frequent name changes when banks undergo mergers. Just as customers of those banks find the name of their local branch changed, the Wells Fargo Center has changed names from the CoreStates Center to the First Union Center to the Wachovia Center, before settling on its current name. Yet the name is much more than a simple identifier: the original CoreStates bank paid $40 million in 1996 to get naming rights of the stadium for the next 21 years.

Before leaving my car, I took note of where I had parked. A sign on the nearby lamppost said this was section “D3,” and below that was a Toyota logo. I mused about the significance of parking in the Toyota parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center, remembering how I’d paid for parking at the “1-800-Lundy-Law” ticket booth. I then headed up to the stadium.

More people wearing orange and black continued to pass by me. An announcer spoke over the speakers overhead, telling me that “1-800-Lundy-Law welcomes you to the Wells Fargo Center.” The same announcer warned me not to buy tickets from scalpers and said that they would not be accepted at the ticket booth. It occurred to me later that the term “scalpers” is a potentially offensive one. My earlier research into sports and racism brought up a news article about a Sonic Drive-in sign referring to scalping, which read “‘KC CHIEFS’ WILL SCALP THE REDSKINS FEED THEM WHISKEY SEND – 2 – RESERVATION.” The sign was later taken down after multiple complaints were issued, and Sonic issued a formal apology. However, there is a certain disparity between using the term “scalping” to refer to sports teams like the Chiefs and the Redskins versus using it to refer to ticket resale.

I continued onwards, and reached the main entrance to the stadium. In front of the entrance, five tall flagpoles stood in a row, the flags on top of each flapping lightly in the breeze. I looked up and examined each of the flags. One showed the logo for the Philadelphia Wings, the next the logo for Comcast Sportsnet, the next the 76ers, then the Flyers, and finally the American flag.

I stopped and considered the meaning of this for a moment. The flags representing the sports teams were hung alongside the American flag, at the same height, depicted with the same significance. It seemed to be symbolic of the position sports played in the lives of Americans. Sports are, notably, considered a national phenomenon in many ways. Baseball is called the “National Pastime.” ESPN has a program called “SportsNation.” And as noted earlier, the Canadian-based team the Montreal Expos was later moved to Washington D.C. and renamed the Washington Nationals. The Nationals’ mascot is Screech, a bald eagle, and many of the team’s logos are red, white, and blue, with stars.

Image Credit: SportsLogos.net
Image Credit: SportsLogos.net

The significance of a team’s mascot and logo seems particularly important. As I noted in an earlier post, the Blackhawks team name and mascot are based off the original team owner’s World War I infantry division, something which holds a lot of historical and cultural importance. And while the Philadelphia Flyers have no actual mascot, their team logo is a stylized “P” representative of their home city of Philadelphia. The name “Flyers” was chosen because “it captured the speed of the game and went well phonetically with Philadelphia.” The design of the logo also incorporates a wing to represent speed, a circle at the center of the “P” that represents a hockey puck, and a sweeping stick shape on the back end of the “P” that looks like a hockey stick. The combination of these factors blends the concepts of “speed,” “hockey,” and “Philadelphia” into a single image. It’s easy to see how this would help fans from the Philadelphia area identify and associate with their team, feeling a connection between their own status as Philadelphians and their hockey team.

Image Credit: GoodLogo.com
Image Credit: GoodLogo.com

The Flyers aren’t the only Philly team to have a mascot or logo that forges such a connection. The Philadelphia Eagles use the bald eagle, which is also the symbol found on the Great Seal of the United States.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

This seems particularly significant when considering that Philadelphia was the original capital of the United States, from 1790-1800. Philadelphia is also one of the oldest cities in America, founded by William Penn in 1682. It’s a city that has played an important role in our colonial history.

Image Credit: hoopsmanifesto.com
Image Credit: hoopsmanifesto.com

This connection between the Philadelphia sports teams and Philadelphia history is also seen in the logo of the 76ers. The Sixers are named after the year 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Their logo, like the Washington Nationals, includes red, white, and blue colors, along with a circle of thirteen stars in the same design as the first American flag.

I turned away from the line of flags and into the stadium, pondering the cultural significance of these connections. I had already encountered a great deal of symbolism and history, and the game hadn’t even started yet.

This story will continue in Ethnographic Hockey, Part 2: Autographed Jerseys and Buy One Get One Hats.

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The Racism Behind A Name

This post is part of my ongoing research into Native American culture and modern issues of oppression. To see all posts on this subject, view the category page.

“Should the Washington Redskins change their name?” This topic is one of major debate right now. The basic argument is that the name is offensive and racist, which makes many Native Americans argue that is should be changed, while many sports fans say that it is a long-standing tradition and a symbol of pride for their team. I’m going to explore both sides of this issue.

There are many different aspects of Native American Culture, history, oppression, racism, and modern views to explore. I haven’t yet narrowed down my primary focus, so for the moment, I’m going to explore some thoughts and ideas here on the blog. Much of this will be a sort of “thinking out loud,” where I try to sort through ideas that I’m not very familiar with. I’ll be sharing research material that comes up as I explore these subjects.

The first thing I want to do, however, is declare my standpoint. In Communication Studies, Standpoint Theory is a theory which states that an individuals perspectives and views will be altered by their place in society, their history, their knowledge, and their power. On a basic level, this means that people from one standpoint can’t understand the troubles of another. For example, a wealthy white male from a privileged home who went to private school and works in the government can’t understand the troubles and life of a minority female who is a single mother living on welfare. Their experiences are different, and that can affect the way one views the other.

Every aspect of your standpoint can influence your view. If you’re the same race as another person, but one of you is rich and one is poor, you’ll have a similar standpoint on some issues and a different standpoint on others. There is no single “catch-all” category that will allow anyone to fully understand anyone else’s viewpoint.

Because I will be attempting to understand a culture I know little about, I am entering this research with firm awareness of my standpoint with regards to this subject. Therefore, I think it is important to declare who I am, so that both myself and anyone reading my research will know my standpoint and be aware of any possible biases or preconceptions my standpoint might bring.

I am a white, heterosexual, single male. I come from a lower-middle class family. I have experienced life working for minimum wage, and I know what it is like to be uncertain where my next meal is coming from. I do not have children, nor do I have any experience raising children (including personal understanding of the struggles and financial burdens of childcare). I am a college graduate, but I am also a nontraditional student and I didn’t graduate college until I was 33.

Based on my standpoint, I understand that I have a limited awareness of racial issues. I read about them, I learn about equal rights in school, and I support equality in every way. I have not, however, experienced the type of oppression that many people from minority groups have.

With that in mind, when I sat down to begin addressing the issue of Native American culture and oppression, I found that I went through a train of thought that ended up leading to an interesting question. The rest of this post will be exploring those thoughts and ending with that question.

My first thought when I was faced with the question “Should the Washington Redskins change their name?” was “It’s football, who cares?” I obviously had to move past this thought, but it’s important because it adds another dimension to my standpoint: I am not a sports fan.

Why is that important? Sports aren’t a crucial social issue, or so I might have said. But then I thought deeper about it, and I realized that someone’s status as a sports fan has some deep cultural implications. Here’s a list of why someone’s standpoint as a sport’s fan is important:

  • There has been research done into the psychological effects of “Sports Team Identification” (when a fan considers themselves part of the team’s group-identity) on a person’s behavior. A study by Keaton, et al., found that “Identified sport team fans who used catharsis, conflict linkage, and relational maintenance report a greater inclination to commit negative social behaviors as a result of team performance” (p. 3). In short, devoted sports fans develop a psychological connection that links their own self-worth to the performance of the team. If the team fails, the fans can feel like failures themselves. This can lead to aggressive behavior such as lashing out.
  • Sports also play a cultural role in our society. They are a group activity with customs, traditions, and an emotional impact on people who are involved with them. Orlando Patterson, a historical and cultural sociologist, said that sports have a “cultural and economic significance” and that “sport is a highly crystallised form of social structure, not found in other areas of society” (p. 550). In essence, this means that sports can be viewed in a cultural context in the same way art, music, and religion can. In fact, it can be argued that sports brings an even greater sense of community, a stronger emotional impact, and more cultural fixation than art does (just compare the number of fans at a sporting event to the number of visitors to a museum).
  • Sports fans are very well known for defending their team, and Sports Team Identification can lead to an “us vs them” attitude. Rival teams (such as the Cowboys vs the Eagles) can lead to fans feeling that fans of the opposing team are “enemies” or at the very least “others” (as in, not part of the “us” group). This can lead to segregation, and if someone from a rival team enters, say, the wrong sports bar, they may be subject to ridicule and aggression.

So by looking at sports in this way, I shifted my understanding of sports as “just another waste of time” (no different in my mind than any other activity), to “a complex, cultural activity that leads to the formation of groups and altered emotions and social behavior.” I think that distinction is important because of the points I’m about to address.

When considering the question of the Washington Redskins’ name change, I think it’s important to address what that change means. Originally, my view was “It’s not a big deal.” When I start thinking about sports teams and their fans as cultural and social constructs, however, it becomes more complex. The proponents and opponents of the name change debate become two different cultures, each with their own history, traditions, beliefs, and practices. Is one set of beliefs more important than the other? Well, I don’t think that’s the important factor here. The important factor is racism.

When I first heard the argument that the Redskins’ name was racist, I stopped and tried to put myself in the shoes of the Native Americans who would be insulted by this name. At first, I had a hard time. I’m Irish, and I could label myself as “Irish-American” instead of just “white.” My grandfather’s family was born in Ireland, and his parents and older brother all moved here before my grandfather was born. I have distant second-cousins still living in Ireland, and my family keeps in touch with them.

Based on my standpoint as an Irish-American, I tried to think how I would feel if the debate about the name change was over another team: the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. My thoughts on the matter basically amounted to, “I could be offended that this team name stereotypes Irish as both drunkards and brawlers.” It did not, however, move me to any real emotion (I didn’t get angry or offended over this; I merely considered the possibility that others could).

I felt like I was missing some important point, however. Sports fans in favor of keeping the Redskins’ name have said they feel that the name “honor[s] the Native Americans” as “a symbol of loyalty and courage.” Those statements are easily open to dispute, but rather than focusing on the statements themselves, I want to look deeper.

After giving the issue some thought, I ended up considering the following scenario:

Imagine you are an African American. You find out a new sports team is forming nearby. The team uniforms will be inspired by colors used in the flags of African nations, and the team is meant to “honor African Americans” as “a symbol of African pride and heritage.”

Then you find out that the team will be named “The Mississippi Coloreds.”

Would you find this offensive? Would you want them to change the name? I went to Twitter and asked if people would consider “coloreds” offensive. The responses were consistent: yes, they find it offensive. Along those lines, I am sure there would be a LOT of protest to naming a sports team in this way.

This then brings me to a better understanding of the Redskins’ name change debate. If it’s not okay to name a sports team “honoring African Americans” by naming the team based on the color of that race’s skin, then why do people think it’s okay to name the Redskins in the same way?

Perhaps our society hasn’t had enough education in this regard to view “Redskins” as an offensive term in the same way we do other racist words. Though you might need to consider whether you would ever use the word when speaking to a Native American. I think that a more appropriate way to “honor Native Americans” would be to only use names they embrace, rather than names they find offensive.

This train of thought has certainly influenced the way I view the name change debate. I think that when taken in this context, it should be clear why the name is offensive.

There are a lot of other angles for me to pursue as I take this research forward, but I think what I’ve covered here is helping me to narrow my focus. Some of the key issues are cultures, the “us vs them” perspective that can develop between cultures, and the offensive nature of referring to a group of people based on their skin (even if people claim they are doing it to “honor” them). I’ll be exploring these issues more in the future, and hoping to increase my own understanding as I go along.