Stop for a minute and contemplate the big picture before I tell you the tale of the Rockford IceHogs—the American Hockey League affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks—and their November 16 “Los IceHogs Night,” which will feature a rather garish multicolored jersey displaying a mustachioed IceHog with a sombrero, free Corona maracas, and an appearance from Dora the Explorer.
How would it be perceived if the IceHogs decided to promote the “heritage” of other cultures, whether it be African Americans (IceHog in a B-Boy pose!) or Asians (free chopsticks to our first 2,500 fans!)? Would anyone be called out for being too sensitive or too politically correct?
For those who have been busy catching up on their post-election reading, a few days ago the IceHogs Twitter account posted the following:
— Rockford IceHogs (@goicehogs) November 8, 2012
The tweet got national online coverage, with Deadspin calling it “racist.” When my site, Latino Rebels, shared the news with our community, the Facebook and Twitter response was of the overall opinion that the IceHogs had failed. Only one person defended it on our main site, while the rest thought it was just another example of Latino marketing gone very bad. Stereotypes live! Let’s go watch some hockey with our maracas!
This morning I decided to call the IceHogs for comment. I talked with Mike Peck, the IceHogs Director of Communications, who let me know that the team worked with Rockford’s Coalition of Latino Leaders (CLL) to design the jersey.
The CLL not only helped design the shirt, Peck said, but also helped to organize the entire event, Dora the Explorer and maracas included.
“We’re trying obviously to bridge the gap between two different cultures,” Peck said. “Obviously there’s not a lot of Hispanics or Latinos that attend hockey games so what we’ve tried to do is figure out a way to do a night for the local Hispanic or Latino community here in Rockford.”
Peck did admit that the while the local response to the jersey has been “positive,” not “everyone loves the jersey.” He added: “We’ve had a little bit of kickback about it being stereotypical or whatever, but for the most part, I mean, we’ve never had more requests for people outside and in the community wanting to buy a jersey.”
As for the claims that the jersey and the event is being seen as being racially insensitive, Peck told me the following: “First, we apologize because that wasn’t the intent, and secondly, it’s something that has been inspired through the Coalition of Latino Leaders. From our end, we wouldn’t have done this on our own, by any means.”
He continued: “We weren’t expecting to get national publicity on it. And another thing, the thing with minor league sports, too, you always try to do something that could create a buzz like this, but obviously you want to do it in the most positive way. But unfortunately when you do, there’s always some controversy behind it. And again, we definitely were not doing it to create a controversial issue, even though I would be foolish to tell you that by looking at the jersey that we wouldn’t think people were not going to criticize it. We knew that, but again because we had the guidance of the Latino coalition of Rockford, they gave us their blessing on it.”
I also spoke to Rudy Velez, who is part of Rockford’s CLL. Velez defended the CLL’s position, saying that this is entertainment and there is more leeway in how Latino culture is communicated.
“If we want to expose Latinos to different things, whether it is education, entertainment, politics, or whatever, what is currently happening doesn’t work. We need to go ahead and make sure that we draw people in, not necessarily with controversy, but the flip side of this is that we don’t do anything. There’s been [hockey games] every week. This is an opportunity to go ahead and expose the Latino community to hockey. I think they’re going to have fun. The intent was never to be controversial or anything. The intent was to really expose them to a new experience.”
A “new experience” is not sombreros, maracas, and Dora the Explorer. Sorry, it was a fail.