Quiet Suburban Racism

A minor controversy has come and gone in the past few weeks. The Nepean Redskins will no longer be the Nepean Redskins. As a result of a Human Rights Tribunal complaint lodged by Ian Campeau, the club has done the right thing. As I note in the Ottawa Citizen, whether they intended to offend or not, the existence of the Redskins was a tacit form of racism that we could no longer abide:

Supporters of the moniker will disassociate themselves from the racist elements of the name, pointing to history and the continued existence of the NFL’s Washington Redskins as justification for this quiet suburban intolerance. But it’s a façade. They are either lying to themselves or just plain lying. Naming your child’s sports team after the skin tone of an historically (and currently) marginalized ethnic group is simple, basic racism. Intentions don’t matter; a racial slur is a racial slur, regardless. And as Ian Campeau, the local man who launched the complaint, notes, we wouldn’t accept a team named the Blackskins or the Yellowskins.

As can be imagined, there was resistance. The Redskins had been the Redskins for about 35 years. The people who ran the club had been doing so without complaint for over a decade (despite the fact that complaints against their namesake, the Washington Redskins, have also been around for a decade or more), so this was a bit of a shock. The shock and initial defiance was understandable – a fairly typical reaction. It was unacceptable that over the past two years, since Mr. Campeau first approached the team, nothing was done. Just because we are desensitized to it does not mean that it is any less offensive.

Unfortunately, that’s a message some are still learning:

“It’s all been extremely overwhelming and very emotional for all of us,” treasurer Evelyn Torley told the Citizen on Thursday. “I have 13 years with the club, which is probably the least amount of time of anyone on the board. Others have 17 and 18 years of doing a lot of good work and putting in a lot of time for these children. But whatever. It is what it is. We’ll get through it and emerge stronger.”

“I get it,” she said. “I get that everybody has to be politically correct, but never has there been the slightest trace of racism intended. Quite the contrary.”

No, she does not get it, or at least she didn’t get it last week when she was interviewed. Refraining from using a racial epithet isn’t politically correctness; it’s basic human decency.

(And her “quite the contrary” line suggests she wasn’t really thinking straight at the time… is she suggesting that they used the name “Redskins” in order to fight racism?)

Thankfully, the club President, Steve Dean, demonstrated that the club does get it. He called the decision “right and just“, and, certainly, it is. Little more really needs to be said. It took a long time – way too long – but the club has finally done the right thing.

Taking their puck and sulking

Two weeks ago, city council decided that the location for a new casino would be at Rideau Carleton Raceways, denying Senators owner Eugene Melnyk his request to have a casino out in Kanata by the hockey arena. I have few strong opinions about the casino, and I’ll probably never write about the issue in depth (short version: I thought Kanata was probably a better location, though I have no real insight into this; I don’t like casinos as corporate welfare; I’m glad they didn’t shoehorn it downtown), but there are some new developments that indicate the city may have made a very wise choice.

As The Citizen‘s David Reevely reports, the Senators only appear to care about Ottawa as long as they can leverage certain rents from the city:

Less than two weeks after city council snubbed the Ottawa Senators in their pursuit of a west-end casino, the hockey team’s president has quit the city’s task force planning a celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.

He’s also quit the board of the Ottawa Convention Centre and committees he served on with Ottawa Tourism and the National Arts Centre.

There’s nothing immoral about a bunch of wealthy men sulking when they don’t get the shiny new toy they want (though it is rather unseemly); the Ottawa Senators are, after all, a business, first and foremost. They are not here to ameliorate the city or make life better for us citizens. They exist to bring pride, prestige and money to the Toronto-born, Barbados-residing owner, Eugene Melnyk.

Melnyk will, no doubt, continue to run the Senators as a business, and it is for this reason that the city cannot afford to give him any favours. Sure, today he’s “just” asking for a casino, but there’s no telling what his next demand will be. He has shown his true self, and we cannot trust him to refrain from blackmailing the city in the future.

Ottawa is blessed to have a sports franchise owner who actually cares about the community. Jeff Hunt, owner of 67s and our yet-to-be-re-born CFL franchise, the RedBlacks, is truly a part of our community. But not every owner is going to be like Jeff Hunt, and we can’t expect them to be.

Eugene Melnyk is a business man, and business ventures are inherently self-interested. We have to remember this and treat all businesses, even The Senators, as just that, businesses.