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Why a former Olympic site finally removed the slur from its name



Ruth Hopkins was 5 years old when she heard the slur for the first time.

Her mother decided to take her to a post office at a reservation border town neighboring the Dakota Treaty Lands where they lived. A group of older white men — towering giants, in her eyes — watched her walk in, laughed derisively and said, “little squaw.” Her jaws clenched, and she stood rooted to the spot, immobilized by fear.

One of her very first memories was also one that acutely showed her place in America and in the world.

“It was the first time I realized I was viewed as less than because I am Native and female,” Hopkins, now a biologist, a writer and a tribal attorney, said.

When Squaw Valley Ski Resort, which hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics, announced that it will be changing its 71-year-old name, citing that the word was “derogatory toward Native American women,” it was a moment to celebrate.

“To Native American communities, many of which are matriarchal in setup, the s-word is as jarring as the c— word in English,” Natalie Welch, a Native American athlete advocate said. Welch is Cherokee from the Qualla Boundary, a Cherokee Historic Territory in North Carolina. “Imagine driving by and seeing a name that reads C— Valley Ski Resort, because that’s what it means to us.”

Seeing the word in large letters on a resort or school is a visceral reminder to Native Americans of their place in this colonized world, of their culture’s erasure and of their community’s loss of identity, land and resources.

Despite efforts by Native American activists to get the slur eliminated — and it has been removed in the names of several public properties based on state laws — it still remains in many places in the U.S.: There is Squaw Peak Inn in Arizona, Squaw Lake in California, Squaw Grove Township in Illinois, Squaw Valley Academy in California and Squaw Creek Southern Railroad in Indiana.

And three sports teams still use the term: Bellmont Squaws, a volleyball team in Decatur, Indiana; Dodge County Squaws, a basketball team in Eastman, Georgia; and Jourdanton Squaws, a basketball team in Jourdanton, Texas.

The ski resort in Olympic Valley is located in the eastern part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, a two-hour drive northeast of Sacramento near Lake Tahoe. At the 1960 Games, the Soviet Union dominated, winning 21 total medals, while the U.S. won 10. For Team USA, the highlight of the Olympics came from gold medals in men’s and women’s singles figure skating and men’s hockey. The resort still hosts major events, including recently, a 2017 FIS Ski World Cup.

The origin story of how the resort area was named can be traced to a local newspaper story in 1859, current CEO of the resort Ron Cohen found in his research. In the story, a young man traveling west tells everybody in his wagon that he’s going to “shoot and kill the first Indian” he sees.

The wagon reached what is now the Olympic Valley, where a Native American woman stood. The man took aim and shot her in the head, killing her.

And this was just one story of the vicious extermination of Native American people. Cohen found that the areas named Squaw Alpine or Squaw Valley were done so as another means to control and commodify Native Americans.

“To all the people who consider the term as an honor to Native women, how can a term honor a group of people when it was clearly used to dehumanize and eliminate them?” Cohen said. “More than that, how can you honor a group with a name they consider offensive?”

Just last week, Big Squaw Mountain ski resort near Moosehead Lake in Maine opposed a name-change petition started by three Native American activists. The name of the mountain on which the resort is located was changed in 2000 when a state law was passed requiring the removal of the term from all public names, but the rule didn’t extend to private businesses.

In the larger context of name and logo changes — including the Washington Football Team’s recent name change — Native American women are often left out of the conversation, which is why talking about this word specifically is incredibly important, Welch said.

America is going through a historic reckoning with racial injustice, and what a name and logo change signifies is corporations and privileged individuals taking the time to be introspective, to have a dialogue with the marginalized community, to educate themselves on slurs they’ve either willfully or ignorantly used all their lives, Welch said. These names and logos are a part of America’s history, and things cannot change without education — and without using these mistakes as examples to be better in the future, she added.

Sports fans in particular have an intense affinity with names and logos and often get defensive when the name-change conversation comes up, Welch said. “They always say — what about our team’s history — to which I say, “‘Do you even know Native Americans’ history?’ It always blows my mind.”

To many Native Americans, a name and logo change is the least amount of work that can be done. “We’re going to stop insulting you to your face and then selling it on t-shirts and making money off of your pain — that is the lowest bar we can have,” Lucas Brown Eyes, a comedian and writer, said. “It’s 2020, if this is where we are with change, we are so far away from any form of human rights for Native Americans.”

According to Futures Without Violence, a nonprofit working to end violence against women and children, more than one in three Native American women are raped in their lifetime. One in four Native Americans live in poverty, and experience significantly higher rates of substance abuse when compared to other ethnic groups because of historical trauma, violence, poverty, unemployment and racism.

Native Americans are also at a higher risk for several health issues including mental illness, suicide, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the confirmed number of COVID-19 cases among Native Americans/Alaskan Natives is 3.5 times that of non-Hispanic whites. “When we’re not hurt most by America, that’s when we have reached a turning point,” Lucas said.

Last year, for the first time in California history, governor Gavin Newsom issued an apology for the state’s historical wrongdoings, establishing a Truth and Healing Council. It’s a step, said Herman Fillmore, the culture and language resources director for the Washoe Tribe, which fought for the ski resort name change. A bigger step, he said, would be restitution.

“When we do a lot of this work [in talking to schools and communities], we acknowledge the history of the United States and how much effort was put into taking away our languages and cultures,” Fillmore said. “We’re talking generations and millions of dollars spent in taking away our languages and cultures, dehumanizing us, whitewashing us — we need that same effort and energy put in to bring those things back.”

Native Americans come from over 570 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. — each with its own belief system, history, culture, language and land base — so instead of fighting to keep a caricature or a slur in the name of history, work to provide equal opportunity and to level the playing field, Hopkins said.

“We’re out here, pull away the fake and see us,” Hopkins added.

While the ski resort in Olympic Valley has not yet said what its new name will be, the actions that have come from the name change will be meaningful. “It’s really the ultimate apology, because a true apology is changed behavior,” Hopkins said.

More broadly, this name change could eventually increase the diversity in skiing if it led to more opportunities for Native American kids to take up the sport at an early age, Welch said. If ski resorts provided equipment and training to Native American youth in the area, that would mean that fewer kids end up at the juvenile detention centers, Fillmore said. It directly correlates to a better life for the next generation, he added.

“I love Lindsey Vonn, she’s like one of my heroes. I love her story of where she grew up — skiing on a bunny hill — so, I think there could be a Native Lindsey Vonn,” Welch said. “We could have our own athletes in these sports.”


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

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