Minnesota Wild's use of 'Thin Blue Line' symbol draws major criticism

·Writer
·6 min read
Originally intended to recognize the work police services do to protect communities, and honour fallen officers,  the “thin blue line” symbol has been co-opted and adopted by white nationalist groups opposing the fight for racial equity and anti-racism initiatives. (Getty Images)
Originally intended to recognize the work police services do to protect communities, and honour fallen officers, the “thin blue line” symbol has been co-opted and adopted by white nationalist groups opposing the fight for racial equity and anti-racism initiatives. (Getty Images)

The Minnesota Wild this week announced a set of theme ticket packages for the 2022-2023 season. Among them were Educator Appreciation Night, Hockey Fights Cancer Night, Pride Night, and what turned out to be a controversial promotion, Law Enforcement Appreciation Night.

The theme itself did not draw much backlash, but the imagery and t-shirt the Wild unveiled for the November 1 game against the Montreal Canadiens were criticized for the inclusion of the “thin blue line” symbol.

Originally intended to recognize the work police services do to protect communities, and honour fallen officers, the “thin blue line” symbol has been co-opted and adopted by white nationalist groups opposing the fight for racial equity and anti-racism initiatives following the murder of George Floyd.

Minnesota has been central in debates surrounding police violence, specifically toward Black communities. George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a police officer in the city of Minneapolis in 2020. Minneapolis is part of the Twin-Cities, along with St. Paul, where the Minnesota Wild play. The Twin-Cities has a history of noted incidents involving police killing unarmed Black people, including the 2016 killing of Philando Castile in St. Paul, and the killings of Daunte Wright and Amir Locke in 2021 in Minneapolis.

In Minneapolis, a recent investigation concluded that the Minneapolis Police Department has “engaged in a pattern of racial discrimination.” Rebecca Lucero, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, said the report “paints an unsettling picture of the city of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Police Department engaging in a pattern of racial discrimination over the last decade.”

The “thin blue line” flag has been tied to white supremacy since the 2017 “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the flag was prominently flown alongside swastikas and confederate flags. The “thin blue line” has appeared on patches and flags at rallies for whites supremacist groups including the Proud Boys and the Klu Klux Klan, as well as at the January 6 insurrection in Washington, DC. The flag, and resulting “blue lives matter” groups, have appeared in rallies opposing the Black Lives Matter movement.

When fans saw the Minnesota Wild’s promotional t-shirt, which featured the “thin blue line” version of the American flag, using a blue hockey stick in the design, questions arose online, leading to the Wild to quickly remove the graphics from their website.

In a statement responding to the use and subsequent removal of the symbol, the Wild said, “We understand the black and blue flag symbol means many things to many people. Our only intention was to show support for law enforcement for the outstanding work they do in our local communities. Moving forward, we will work hard to show appreciation for various groups in ways that best reflect our shared community values.”

Many, however, including Nathan Kalman-Lamb, a former lecturing fellow at Duke University and current assistant professor at the University of New Brunswick, did not see the Wild’s response as sufficient.

“That the Minnesota Wild would choose to employ imagery closely associated with both racist police brutality and far right movements more broadly, when the franchise itself essentially sits at the site of George Floyd’s murder by police, sends a powerful message about the 'community' that the team is trying to court as fans,” Kalman-Lamb, who also co-hosts The End of Sport Podcast, told Yahoo Sports.

In April 2021, following a guilty verdict for George Floyd’s killer Derek Chauvin, the Wild released a statement saying, “The Wild organization is committed to driving social change and fostering inclusivity by providing a safe, positive, and welcoming environment for ALL community members and employees.”

According to Kalman-Lamb, the organization has not lived up to this commitment.

“Indeed, this promotion and the Wild’s refusal to apologize for it in earnest are an incredibly clear and disturbing signal that despite two years of lip service to the contrary, North American hockey culture remains a profoundly—toxically—white space,” he wrote.

Across North America, it is not only those involved in the fight for racial equity that now recognize the current meaning ascribed to the “thin blue line” symbol, law enforcement agencies are also making change to separate from the symbol. In Canada, police services in Vancouver, Calgary, Victoria, Charlottestown, and Toronto, as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, have restricted use of the symbol by officers.

After an officer in Charlottetown was seen wearing the symbol at a Pride Week event in July of 2022, the Charlottetown Police released a statement saying, "it is clear that the history and controversy surrounding this symbol, specifically its racist and extremist origins, is not in line with the protective and community-based services” police in Charlottestown aimed to deliver.

In 2020, Police Chief Kristen Roman of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department, in response to the insurrection at the US capitol, released a statement to staff saying, “we can all agree that the actions and hateful ideologies of extremists who have so visibly co-opted the thin blue line flag in the promotion of their views not only threaten our democracy, our communities, and justice in all forms, they run counter to UWPD’s core values and significantly impede our efforts to build trust.”

What started as a symbol of support and respect, as Chief Roman says, has changed, and continuing to use the “thin blue line” symbol now means something different.

“The balance has tipped, and we must consider the cost of clinging to a symbol that is undeniably and inextricably linked to actions and beliefs antithetical to UWPD’s values.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Shawn Cornett, Chair of the Calgary Police Commission, in a 2022 news release indicating officers in Calgary will no longer wear the symbol. “People in our community have clearly expressed that the thin blue line patch on police officers makes them uncomfortable due to its history and current use by groups opposing racial equity. As policing evolves, so must its symbols.”

According to the Minnesota Wild website, the team still intends to host a Law Enforcement Appreciation Night, “to thank the brave men and women who serve the State of Hockey” on November 1 when the team hosts the Montreal Canadiens. The ticket package will also still include a “Wild-branded Hometown Heroes t-shirt,” although no design has been confirmed yet.

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