Former Edmonton players weigh in on CFL team dropping Eskimos name

Former Edmonton players weigh in on CFL team dropping Eskimos name

Former Edmonton players weigh in on CFL team dropping Eskimos name

Canadian Football Hall of Famer Hank Ilesic said he ”absolutely” will continue to call himself a former Edmonton Eskimo even though the CFL franchise is retiring the longtime team name.

Ilesic, who joined the team as a punter in 1977 and helped Edmonton win five straight Grey Cups from 1978-‘82, said his reaction to the news Tuesday was “very mixed.” The Edmonton native added that he felt the name was a tribute to the tough, hard-working people in the north that was in no way derogatory, negative or racist.

“Anybody who has put that green and gold jersey on, has put that Edmonton Eskimo helmet on, we have a saying,” Ilesic said. “You may have heard this before: ’Once an Eskimo, always an Eskimo.’ Period. No matter what tomorrow brings and that’s fact. You can ask any player and they’ll tell you that.”

Former Edmonton stars Matt Dunigan and A.J. Gass published tweets with the “Once an Eskimo, Always an Eskimo” slogan after the name change was announced.

Critics say that Eskimo is a derogatory, colonial-era term for Inuit. The club said it has begun an engagement process on a new name and will use Edmonton Football Team and EE Football team in the meantime.

The change was announced Tuesday as pressure builds on pro sports teams to eliminate racist or stereotypical names.

In Major League Baseball, Cleveland Indians players met Tuesday with owner Paul Dolan to discuss a potential name change for the team. The Indians’ move coincided with the recent decision by Washington’s NFL team to stop using a derogatory term for Native Americans.

Boston Pizza recently ended its sponsorship of Edmonton’s CFL team. Belairdirect had announced it was rethinking its relationship with the club and other sponsors said they’d welcome a review of the name.

“When you get pressure from your sponsors, I guess you have to try to appease everyone involved to some degree,” Ilesic said from Orillia, Ont. “You have to. But the history of the Edmonton Eskimos will never change. Nobody can take that away from that organization, no matter what the name will be changed to.”

The team announced in February that it was keeping the name following year-long research that involved Inuit leaders and community members across Canada. The club said it received “no consensus” during that review.

Earlier this month, Edmonton promised to speed up another review of its name. In that statement, the club noted “a lot has happened” since February.

“When I look at memorabilia, team pictures, my jersey, my helmets and the Grey Cup and all those points of identification of what the team used to be called, I don’t think that’s ever going to leave,” said former Edmonton running back Neil Lumsden. “I think there’s a footnote that the name is going to be changed … probably moving forward that’s the way history will show it.”

There have been repeated calls in recent years for the franchise to drop the name. In 2015, Canada’s national Inuit organization said it was time for a change.

Lumsden, who won three Grey Cups in Edmonton and was the top Canadian in the 1981 championship game, said he understands why the decision was made.

“Listening to the conversations and reading the articles and the commentaries around it, it really makes you sit down and think, as all of this should,” the Hall of Famer said from St. Catharines, Ont. “I have the greatest respect for the football team, what it represented to me, my teammates and my family. But I never looked at it in that way — whether it was the Edmonton Football Club, the Edmonton Eskimos, the green and gold, that’s who we were professionally.

“But I would guess close to, if not 100 per cent of the players at the time and even after that, if there was a suggestion that the Eskimo name was being disrespectful, we would have had a conversation. There’s no doubt in my mind. That’d be the last thing that we’d want to do is insult or disrespect by using that name inappropriately.”

The team said it hopes to keep its double-E logo and its green and gold colours.

The start of the 2020 CFL season has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It remains unclear whether games will be played this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2020.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

CFL

Just Posted

Police officers and their dogs undergo training at the RCMP Police Dog Services training centre in Innisfail, Alta., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Mounties say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta who is believed to have shot and killed a service dog during a police chase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products in a bid to reduce their appeal to youth. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Mitchelldyer
Health Canada proposes ban on most vaping flavours it says appeal to youth

If implemented, the regulations would restrict all e-cigarette flavours except tobacco, mint and menthol

The Montreal Police logo is seen in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Some Quebec politicians are calling for an investigation after a video was released that appears to show a Montreal police officer with his leg on a young Black man’s neck during an arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Probe called for after video appearing to show Montreal officer’s knee on Black youth’s neck

Politicians call for investigation after clip evokes memories of George Floyd incident

Thousands of protesters make their way through the downtown core during a Black Lives Matter protest in Ottawa, Friday June 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
MPs’ study of systemic racism in policing concludes RCMP needs new model

Chair of the House public safety committee says it’s time for a reckoning on ‘quasi-military’ structure

A case filled with packages of boneless chicken breasts is shown in a grocery store Sunday, May 10, 2020, in southeast Denver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-David Zalubowski
One million chickens euthanized during labour dispute at Quebec slaughterhouse

Premier says waste amounts to 13 per cent of the province’s chicken production thrown in the garbage

A section of the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies is seen west of Cochrane, Alta., Thursday, June 17, 2021. A joint federal-provincial review has denied an application for an open-pit coal mine in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, saying its impacts on the environment and Indigenous rights aren’t worth the economic benefits it would bring. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Panel says Grassy Mountain coal mine in Alberta Rockies not in public interest

Public hearings on the project in southern Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass region were held last fall

Most Read