It’s official, next April the Newmarket Minor Hockey Association will announce a new “more culturally sensitive and inclusive” name, shedding the Redmen in time for the 2020/2021 hockey season.
“We would like to roll out the new name and logo for our annual general meeting in April. We’d like to have a mock-up of a jersey and the clothing, as well,” NMHA president Lynda Carusi said following the organization’s executive meeting this week.
A public call for submissions to the name game netted 117 suggestions, which the NMHA executive has pared down to a short list,” Carusi said.
Next, the organization is reaching out to local graphic artists who expressed interest in being part of the process and “we’ll take it from there when we see what comes back,” Carusi added.
With her role as NMHA president up for re-election in April 2020, Carusi acknowledged that whomever fills her role next may not follow her suggestions, but until then, she’s planning on making the change to a new name as financially painless as possible.
For uniforms and clothing, “It’ll be a slow phase-in, starting with the jerseys for the Novice-age kids. For the other kids, it’ll be, ‘Oh my jacket ripped, I need a new one. OK, now you’re getting the one with the new logo.’ Stuff like that to keep it as simple and cost effective as possible for the parents,” she said.
With gentle handling by arena staff, the NMHA has already got its money’s worth from team stencils at centre ice, which were purchased five years ago with an expected life span of about five years.
While some may praise the decision and others continue to resist it, moving forward, it’s more about the game than the name.
“We know it’s going to be hard for some people to accept, but to be culturally sensitive, by today’s standards, we have to do it,” Carusi said.
The path to change didn’t come without resistance.
In a 2018 NMHA newsletter, past president Murray Taylor wrote that “many of our members just do not know the history of the NMHA, nor the background as to why we are the Newmarket Redmen”.
“The name Newmarket Redmen was and is intended as a way of honouring our past in hockey within Newmarket,” he continued.
Officially adopted in the early 1990s, the team name was a tribute to the red uniforms donned in the 1920s and ‘30s by the Newmarket Junior Redmen, also known as the Red Shirts, who won the coveted OHA Memorial Cup in 1933.
Undoubtedly, the current perception throughout the sporting world is that the team name represents a racially biased indignity. The Redmen of McGill University and Redmen of Copper Cliff are among those that have changed their team names.
For the thousands of NMHA players and coaches, the Redmen name is a deferential nod to more than a century of hockey history in town.
An NMHA online poll shows that 87 per cent of respondents supported retaining the team name.
It’s an untenable position in the eyes of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC).
Following Mississauga’s decision to “remove from its sports facilities all Indigenous-themed mascots, symbols, names and imagery related to non-Indigenous sports organizations,” the OHRC sent a letter to 40 municipalities, including Newmarket, strongly urging them to address this issue.
The OHRC stated, “Sports are drivers of social inclusion; they bring communities together and help youth develop their self-esteem. To this end, the OHRC and municipalities have a shared goal of actively removing barriers to participation in sports for Indigenous youth.
“The OHRC recognizes that the use of Indigenous-themed names and logos by sports teams has been a long-standing norm in our society. However, it is time to revisit these pervasive images.”
The OHRC closed the letter with a clear indication of how it intends to proceed if matters aren’t handled to their liking.
“As service providers, municipalities have obligations under the Code to provide a service environment free of discrimination. Human rights law has found that images and words that degrade people because of their ancestry, race, colour and ethnic origin, among other grounds, violate the Code.”
Local resident, hockey dad and coach Dean Sprung launched a Change.Org petition, urging the organization to change the “offensive, non-inclusive, and boring” name.
“It tells a story about 53 of the 126 years of hockey in Newmarket.”
Thirty-seven people signed the petition, on which Sprung posted a note Dec. 1: “We are not looking at this as a victory. Our intent was to bring the issues and concerns forward to create a new and positive opportunity for the NMHA. It was clear from the many comments received here and the Facebook Page that there was confusion from the community about the history and meaning of the Redmen name. The NHMA can now start a new history that is meaningful, inclusive and fun.”
At the end of it all, the NMHA reminds us its mission remains unchanged: “To provide a fun, healthy, competitive experience in organized hockey for all talent levels of young people in Newmarket.”