JONES: Name change leaves long-time Eskimos fans feeling loss
At 1 p.m. local time, July 21, 2020, they officially became the Late Great Edmonton Eskimos.
The longtime flagship franchise of the Canadian Football League will go forward as the Edmonton Football Club or the Edmonton EEs.
There wasn’t much more in terms of detail going forward, beyond the early intent to keep the double-E logo and green and gold colours.
It was very much funeral-like when board chair Janice Agrios spoke to open a Zoom video conference call that was attended by 500.
And new team president Chris Presson sombrely initiated an effort to inspire the fan base to come together as a team to help take the franchise forward to a new future with the same support the Eskimos team enjoyed through most of its history.
“This is a very important day in the history of our football club,” began the long-faced lawyer Agrios. “The Edmonton Eskimos Football Club will be discontinuing the use of the word Eskimos in it.”
There were no tears in her eyes but you could tell those words weren’t easy for her to deliver.
“This team is the most successful franchise in modern Canadian Football League history,” she said of the Eskimos, winners of 14 Grey Cups since 1949. “Like many Edmontonians, the Edmonton Eskimos have always been part of my life. My father became one of the Nervous Nine group of directors in the 1960s, shortly before I was born. I started attending games when I was about 10 back in Clarke Stadium.
“To those of us who spent our formative years bundling up and sitting in the stands to cheer on our team in below-zero temperatures, the name Eskimos meant, tough, resilient and never give up. It also meant community and respect. We identified with this name.
“In recent years, however, we’ve come to understand the concerns with the name. We know that those who named the team did not originally intend to be disrespectful or derogatory. In fact, it was the very opposite. They were proud to associate themselves with such as resilient northern people. With the alliteration of the two words and our northern location, the words Edmonton Eskimos felt like a natural fit.
“However, while we may relate to Inuit values, that does not mean we can continue to use this name.
“As we have shared previously, there is no consensus among the Inuit just like there is no consensus in the community and other Canadians. We made a decision to maintain the name while continuing to build relationships in the northern communities. But 2020 is already a year of unprecedented upheaval. Or most recent research showed that views are changing quickly.
“To those Inuit who told us they loved having a football team called the Eskimos, we hope that we can continue to be your team. To those who were offended by the name, we have heard you and recognize your concern.
“This team is so much more than its name. This team leads the league for championships in the modern era. It won an incredible five Grey Cups in a row. And it’s a leader in hands on engagement in the community.
“Changing our name will not change our core identity or the values we stand for — a great team for a great city.”
Let it be written that the Eskimos went out with the same class that led the league all these years.
But where to from here?
“Today’s news can only be viewed as the most monumental and historic occasions in the history of our club,” said Presson.
He spoke of the reputation of the City of Champions.
“Edmonton is not a very big place and it’s pretty far north but every sports fan in North America has heard of Edmonton. They know it as one of the truly great sports cities. Edmonton people support their teams. They come out to games. They wear their colours. They stand by their teams through the winning streaks and the dry spells.
“That’s why I feel confident that our fans will support us through this historic name change.
“This is tough for long-time fans, no question. So what happens next? To be honest, we’re not very far down that path yet. I can’t give you a specific timeline or process. But to choose a new name for the future of this team, a name that captures those Edmonton values, that’s a great opportunity. In the meantime we ask for your patience. COVID-19 has hit us hard financially. It will take time to change all the places that do mention the Eskimos name and we will be working on that process as funds allow, going forward.
“I can tell you that we sure love our green and gold and double-E. It’s early days but we do hope to keep that iconic logo.”
If the CFL should proceed to a shortened schedule, the team will play as the Edmonton EEs. Beyond that there really are no other details.
Edmonton needs time to deal with this. The city needs to go through the stages involved in the loss of a loved one. For long-time fans, that’s what we’re dealing with here.
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones