Edmonton's CFL franchise changes team name to 'Elks'

Watch as Edmonton Elks president Chris Presson officially announces the team's re-branding and gets us all pumped up for the new era of football in Edmonton.

It's one of the largest species within the deer family, can stand almost two metres tall at the shoulders and inflict serious damage when challenged.

Now, the elk will be featured in the CFL. The Edmonton franchise announced Tuesday it is changing its team name to Elks.

The move comes 10 months after the club dropped its longtime name, Eskimos. It followed a similar decision by the NFL's Washington team amid pressure on franchises to eliminate racist or stereotypical names.

The CFL franchise had been called the Edmonton Football Team until Tuesday's announcement.

"We definitely did the right thing," Edmonton president/CEO Chris Presson told reporters during a teleconference. "(The name change) was needed, it was probably a few years overdue to be honest.

"But I'm glad that we're where we are now. No doubt we made the right decision."

The Eskimos moniker had been tied to sports teams in Edmonton since the 19th century, but critics said the name was derogatory and a colonial-era term for Inuit.

In February 2020, the Edmonton franchise announced it was keeping the Eskimos name after a year-long research period that involved Inuit leaders and community members across Canada. Then on July 8, the club promised to speed up another review of its name, noting "a lot has happened" since the decision in February.

One sponsor, national car-and-home insurance provider Belairdirect, had announced it was rethinking its relationship with the team because of the name. Others added they'd welcome a review.

This all happened as NFL's Washington team had said it would undergo a thorough review of its nickname. A similar announcement was made by Major League Baseball's Cleveland team, which is switching its name next year.

Although American Inuit continue to use the word Eskimo, Canada's northern people left that name behind at about the same time they began negotiating their land claim in the 1970s. Many historians believe the origin of Eskimo comes from an Algonquin term meaning "eaters of raw meat."

Others believe it actually comes from another Aboriginal term that refers to people wearing snowshoes. The people themselves have used the word Inuit for centuries. It means "the people" in Inuktut.

"Man, it's been a whirlwind," Presson said. "We wanted to make sure we got it right, we wanted to make sure we did the proper research and we wanted to make sure we created something that was special, and we have.

"When you look at the history of the Edmonton Football Team and the CFL itself, there's a lot there to see. To know you are a part of that and you had a chance to make an impact like this, it's pretty special.

"We plan to continue our northern engagement, we plan to enhance our local engagement. Back to June 2018 we had players and executives that went and spoke with northern leaders, artists, influencers to learn more and really that was a precursor to where we ended up today."

Last week, a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children was discovered in B.C. on the site of what was once Canada's largest Indigenous residential school. Edmonton paid tribute to the victims with a moment of silence during the video release of the new name.

"What I've read about in the last several days is certainly disturbing," Presson said, his voice wavering. "I still can't even get my head around it, I really can't.

"To think about my own family and the fact of having three daughters of my own ... obviously it's challenging to talk about."

Elk was one of seven potential name changes the Edmonton Football Team provided on its shortlist. The others included: Evergreens, Evergolds, Eclipse, Elkhounds, Eagles and Elements.

"I can tell you animals were the clear selection of the 40,000 responses we got," Presson said. "That being said, Elks continued to rise to the top.

"It was No. 1 with our players, it was No. 1 with our coaches, it was No. 1 with our fans ... it was really the fans who made the choice. They were clear in their votes what they wanted. It will allow us to develop a nice ecosystem for our business as a whole."

The adoption of Elks, though, was surprising to some given the plural term of the word is usually Elk, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. But Presson said the club did its homework before adding 'S' to the name.

"We checked with the Oxford Dictionary folks, we also checked with a linguistics expert at (the University of Alberta)," he said. "It is proper, especially in a team name.

"We liked how it sounded, frankly it's more inclusive than the word elk. Elks isn't you or me, it's us and I think the inclusion around the plurality of it was a key mechanism for us."

Presson said while Edmonton's helmets will bear elk antlers, the club plans to also use its other logos, including the iconic EE.

"We will wear the antlers on the helmet, no doubt about it," he said. "We freshened up our EE, it's still within our ecosystems of brands and we still plan to use it.

"How and when we use any and all of the brands is still yet to be determined."

The name change also comes in time for the resumption of CFL play. The league has tentatively scheduled starting a 14-game 2021 campaign Aug. 5 after not playing in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I feel good about where we are," Presson said. "I think as we look forward, we'll be on the field the early part of August, I feel very confident in that.

"I expect a schedule to be released relatively soon and so I think everything seems to be coming together in a positive way."

Founded in 1949, the Edmonton team has won the Grey Cup 14 times, second only to the Toronto Argonauts at 17. The community-owned club's impressive history on the field includes a record five consecutive Grey Cups from 1978 to 1982.

Edmonton set a North American pro sports record by qualifying for the playoffs in 34 straight seasons from 1972 to 2005.

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