Chiefs make a stand

Ex­eter keep Na­tive Amer­i­can brand­ing but drop mas­cot

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Rugby Union By Daniel Schofield

Ex­eter Chiefs have re­fused to bow to pres­sure to change their brand­ing af­ter an in­ter­nal re­view found that their iconog­ra­phy is “in fact highly re­spect­ful” to Na­tive Amer­i­can peo­ple.

How­ever, af­ter a lengthy board meet­ing yes­ter­day, the Gal­lagher Premier­ship lead­ers have de­cided to re­tire their mas­cot, Big Chief, as “a mark of re­spect”.

The club’s use of Na­tive Amer­i­can im­agery within their crest had come un­der in­creas­ing scru­tiny in the wake of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment. Ear­lier this month, Wash­ing­ton’s NFL fran­chise de­cided to drop their “Red­skins” moniker. Yet af­ter com­pil­ing a “de­tailed dossier” the board con­cluded that it was not of­fen­sive.

That brought im­me­di­ate con­dem­na­tion from the Ex­eter Chiefs For Change pres­sure group which said the de­ci­sion was “tone deaf” and “sticks two fin­gers up not only to them [Na­tive Amer­i­cans] but to all mi­nori­ties”.

In 1999, Ex­eter adopted the Chiefs name which is a ref­er­ence to how first XVs are tra­di­tion­ally re­ferred to in Devon. They since com­pleted a fairy-tale rise from the lower reaches of the Na­tional Leagues to be­come Premier­ship cham­pi­ons in 2017. As the only Premier­ship club to con­sis­tently turn a profit be­fore the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, they have been held up as a model club in many re­spects.

Con­tro­versy over their em­blem and mas­cot, which both fea­ture a Na­tive Amer­i­can male with a head­dress, has been bub­bling away for a few years, but came to a head this sum­mer with the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment shining the spot­light on po­ten­tially racist sym­bols and fig­ures within Bri­tish life.

Ex­eter MP Ben Brad­shaw leant his sup­port to a pe­ti­tion set up by fans call­ing for a brand­ing change, call­ing it a “very well-ar­gued and timely re­quest for a long over­due re­view”.

Some mar­ket­ing ex­perts have es­ti­mated that it would cost the club £1 mil­lion to com­mit to a full re­brand, although this fig­ure has been dis­puted by other in­dus­try fig­ures. Ex­eter chair­man Tony Rowe has con­sis­tently re­sisted calls for change but the club did con­vene a board meet­ing yes­ter­day af­ter gath­er­ing a wide range of views.

A club state­ment said: “Part of the club’s re­view has seen the club en­gage with its spon­sors and key part­ners to seek their views – and they have also lis­tened to the re­sponse of our sup­port­ers, the wider rugby com­mu­nity and cer­tain sec­tions from the Na­tive Amer­i­can

‘This will not age well for the club – they are lin­ing them­selves up for dam­age’

com­mu­nity, all of whom have pro­vided us with de­tailed ob­ser­va­tions in let­ters, emails, so­cial con­tent and videos.

“Con­tent pro­vided to the board in­di­cated that the name Chiefs dated back into the early 1900s and had a long his­tory with peo­ple in the Devon area. The board took the view that the use of the Chiefs logo was in fact highly re­spect­ful. It was noted over the years we have had play­ers and coaches from around the world with a wide range of na­tion­al­i­ties and cul­tures. At no time have any play­ers, coaches or their fam­i­lies said any­thing but pos­i­tive com­ments about the brand­ing or cul­ture that ex­ists at the club.

“The one as­pect which the board felt could be re­garded as dis­re­spect­ful was the club’s mas­cot ‘Big Chief ’ and as a mark of re­spect have de­cided to re­tire him.”

Ex­eter pro­vided no in­di­ca­tion of whether they would dis­cour­age sup­port­ers from wear­ing Na­tive Amer­i­can head­dresses or per­form­ing the “Tom­a­hawk Chop”.

The Ex­eter Chiefs For Change pe­ti­tion at­tracted more than 3,500 sig­na­tures, although ri­val pe­ti­tions have been launched, call­ing for the name to be kept.

The Ex­eter Chiefs for Change group in­sists Ex­eter will even­tu­ally bow to change. “It’s in­cred­i­bly dis­ap­point­ing that Ex­eter Chiefs has thrown away this op­por­tu­nity to show it­self as an in­clu­sive club,” the group said. “Indigenous peo­ples have made it clear time and time again that all uses of their im­agery in this way are of­fen­sive, harm­ful and un­ac­cept­able. Ex­eter’s re­fusal to fully lis­ten to these pleas is tone deaf and sticks two fin­gers up not only to them but to all mi­nori­ties.

“This de­ci­sion will not age well for the club – there is no doubt that the brand­ing will even­tu­ally have to change as it is clear de­pic­tions like this are no dif­fer­ent from gol­lies and other relics of the past. By re­fus­ing to deal with it prop­erly now, the club are lin­ing them­selves up for ex­ten­sive rep­u­ta­tional and com­mer­cial dam­age.”

Re­tired: Ex­eter’s mas­cot, Big Chief, in the tun­nel dur­ing a Cham­pi­ons Cup game against Sale at Sandy Park last De­cem­ber

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