It’s been tough being a football fan in Ottawa. The professional teams have been rather disappointing since… well, since about 20 minutes in the 1970s. The Rough Riders spent the last years/decades as perennial bottom feeders before folding. A few years later, we were teased with a new team only to be let down when it turned out to be a ploy to re-negotiate the collective bargaining agreement.
Then came the Renegades, followed shortly by owners who ran the Riders into the ground a decade earlier (as well as a subsequent team in Shreveport). As you might imagine, with such a track record, they ran the Renegades into the ground.
So now we have the RedBlacks. Beyond some minor complaining about the name–which was rather overblown–things have been going well. Granted, there is some bad blood between the team and (supposed) presumptive starting Quarterback Kevin Glenn (well, presumptive until the signing of now face-of-the-franchise Quarterback Henry Burris), but these things happen.
Then there was the unveiling of the mascot, a big, slightly goofy lumberjack. Again despite some light ridicule, it was well done (enough). Logging has a big history in Ottawa and the team even uses a saw blade in the logo. On Friday, we were to learn the name of the mascot.
Surprisingly (considering our history), the team nailed it, anointing our brawny friend “Big Joe Mufferaw”.
For those who don’t know, Big Joe Mufferaw is, essentially, the Ottawa Valley’s Paul Bunyan–a larger-than-life hero from the lumbering days of Bytowne. Big Joe Mufferaw (orMufferaw Joe, as Stompin’ Tom Connors dubbed him) was inspired by real-life lumber tough guy Joseph Montferrand.
Montferrand was born in Montreal, but eventually made his way to our lovely city, and served as a bit of a protector of the francophone community. (You see, it wasn’t really a “lovely” city so much as a municipal bar fight with some logging thrown in by day).
So there we go. New team. New Quarterback. New mascot. Then this happened:
No longer do we have Big Joe Mufferaw. Now we have “Big Joe” or “Grand Jos” in French.
If you’re thinking that first syllable caused a problem… you’re real funny, and you’re wrong:
Many Francophones took to Twitter on the weekend to vent their frustrations with the choice, saying using Mufferaw instead of Montferrand was disrespectful to the man who inspired the character.
“We unintentionally offended some with the original name and we sincerely apologize for that,” said OSEG president of sports Jeff Hunt in a statement. “We hope to create a fan base that is unified in its support for the RedBlacks and we will continue to strive to do our best in that regard.”
It’s an interesting controversy, in a way; both Joe Mufferaw and Joseph Montferrand are subjects of Canadian folklore (though it’s Mufferaw Joe who is more intrinsically linked to Ottawa as the real-life Monterferrand traveled around).
However, it’s a bit of a non-troversy. The mascot is still, clearly, named after Joe Mufferaw/Joseph Montferrand. If the alleged cultural appropriation of the Joe Mufferaw stories is truly offensive, naming the mascot after him is offensive whether we keep the surname, or not.
If it’s simply a case of including both folk legends, the team easily could have gone with Big Joe Mufferaw in English and Grand Jos Montferrand in French. Pretending the surnames don’t exist is equivalent to just pretending the controversy doesn’t exist.
Really, weren’t we all just going to tell him “Big Joe” or “Jos”, anyway?
And so it goes with Ottawa football, the first of many fumbles.