Chiefs' rebranding dignifies the club and city

Picture of the Exeter Chiefs RFC mascot

Exeter Chief's mascot - Credit: Picture: Archant

Nicknames for sporting clubs can lead to any number of arguments. Why, for example, did Crystal Palace FC cease to be The Glaziers, and instead adorned themselves with the name The Eagles? Why did my own beloved low-achievers, Charlton Athletic, stop calling themselves either the Robins (they play in red) or the Valiants (they play at The Valley)?

Why am I forced to call them The ‘Addicks, to my mind a faux historical name which a campaigning cell of supporters claimed was theirs many decades ago, something to do with the Haddock and Chips enjoyed by supporters on match day? Erm, if you say so south-east London.

However, in our own region, all has been relatively straightforward. When Plymouth Argyle, the Pilgrims, come up county to play Exeter City, the Grecians, we all know what we mean. (Go to wiki if you need to know why Exeter are called by that name. The Pilgrims from Plymouth is pretty obvious).

When it comes to the oval ball game, things become more complicated. For most of my life, Exeter’s rugby club was simply known as Exeter Rugby Club. But then just over 20 years ago professional teams started to give themselves tough-sounding new names, and this process begat the Exeter Chiefs.

This grandiose name seemed appropriate. I was once at a conference at Sandy Park looking out over the pitch where the first XV were training. I am a bulky 5ft 10 ins and played a bit myself at school, but I felt like a Lilliputian next to these huge units with their off the scale neck sizes and forearms as thick as my upper thighs. Exeter Collosals, Exeter Magnificos, Exeter Giants – they would have suited them all.

Chiefs it became, though, which is where the problems began. I do not know who came up with the idea of building up the brand with all sorts of motifs, crests and insignia which played on the idea of the “Indian” or Native American Chief. Might they perhaps have known better in 1999? It was hardly the dark ages.

One can see where it all came from, perhaps. In my primary school playground and on days out in the woods we’d play Cowboys and Indians. Once allocated a side, we doggedly hunted each other around school buildings and trees. The Cowboys were a mute kind of lot, but the “Indians” used to enact mock tribal dances and pat fingers against our mouths as we let out piercing cries.

None of this would have been much appreciated by genuine Native Americans, and indeed as soon as we studied a bit of history, and grew up, we learned that the “Indians” were not scalp-hungry “savages” but an indigenous ethnic group who the “Cowboys” had very nearly colonised out of existence.

Today, the descendants of those Native Americans are understandably annoyed when the descendants of their persecutors show little respect for the indigenous culture and muck about in supposedly “Indian headdress” talking about Braves and Tomahawks and so on.

In the last few years in the USA the Washington Redskins dropped their nickname, as did the Cleveland Indians. The Chicago Blackhawks, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Braves are thinking about it and are likely to reform before too long.

Therefore, congratulations are due to the Exeter Chiefs. They have every right to keep their name, but they have decided after a few years of debate, discussion and petitions to jettison all of the imagery in their branding that alludes to Native Americans.

This is a good and inevitable decision. These days at school, children are not encouraged to “tribal dance” across the playground, trees for totem poles, as their grandparents and parents did; instead, they are taught the importance of respect for the culture of others. This brand change dignifies both the club and the magnificent city of Exeter. Go Chiefs!