I, along with most of the city of Ottawa, have been watching a story unfold over the last 24 hours with combined amusement and outrage.
Ottawa announced the name of a new National Basketball League (no, NOT the NBA) team yesterday. The name? “The Ottawa TomaHawks.”
In a news conference to announce the team name yesterday, team owner Gus Takkale (a motivational speaker and consultant) was quickly confronted with questions by journalists about the potential to offend First Nations groups:
“The most powerful slam dunk in the game of basketball, the most entertaining way to score … the tomahawk dunk,” said Takkale.
“Ladies and gentleman, welcome to TomaHawk nation.”
“Tomahawk,” of course, is a term associated with Native American history.
Takkale said he and his staff had spoken to First Nations groups and they didn’t expect it to be an issue.
That said, many social media users expressed their displeasure with what they believe to be a “racist” name.
“Other teams, could be the Braves and the Redskins, they’re actually focusing on the Native Americans,” Takkale said. “But there’s no intended native reference here. It’s a tomahawk dunk. It’s grabbing the ball behind your head and dunking it. And that excitement is what we want to link our brand to.”
And yet, by Wednesday morning, headlines read:
- “Ottawa TomaHawks considering name change after outcry”
- “Ian Campeau rips Ottawa basketball team for Tomahawks name“
And of course…
As I write this post, they’re announcing on the local CBC morning program that they’re changing the name. The team Twitter account and Youtube channel are down.
So what happened here? Was this a misstep? It’s such a stunningly foolish action that I have to wonder whether this was either a group of people utterly out of touch with reality, or whether they were both stupid and cynical, thinking they could get media attention, then back down.
One thing that I will give them credit for: they knew when they were beat and didn’t try to tough it out.
But whether this was stupidity or cynicism, the organization now needs to realize the amateurish and incompetent image they’ve created in their home community, and figure out how to counteract it.
So what to they need to do?
- CONSULT SMART PEOPLE before they announce a name.
- Make some gestures of reconciliation to local aboriginal groups to try to make good on their stupidity
- Don’t be stupid again.