Ottawa Redblacks change mascot name that ‘unintentionally offended’ francophone fans; say bonjour to Big Joe/Grand Jos

In an only-in-Ottawa — and that's meant in the most positive way possible — the Ottawa Redblacks have tweaked the name of their mascot.

To some, the move might reek of being too concerned with being politically correct, to use what's become the blanket term thrown around when someone actually exercises sensitivity. Another way of looking at it is to marvel at how quickly the Redblacks realized while it had good intentions when it named its mascot Big Joe Mufferaw after the 19th-century logger immortalized in lyrics and music by iconic folk musician (and football fan) Stompin' Tom Connors, it was off-putting to some Francophone sports consumers in the Ottawa-Outaouais region.

A name based on an Anglophone mangling of the name of a real person — Joseph Montferrand, a real-life Outaouais logger and defender of Francophone rights in the 1800s — who was the basis for a fictional character was cute, in its time. It was meant as a tribute. Mufferaw also reflects the casual prejudice against French-Canadians in those days. It's patronizing in 2014. As a result, the Redblacks announced Monday that even though Big Joe Mufferaw was the choice of half the respondents to a name-the-mascot poll, he will be Big Joe in English and Grand Jos en français.

"We unintentionally offended some with the original name and we sincerely apologize for that," Jeff Hunt, president of sports with Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the Redblacks, Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's and Fury FC of the North American Soccer League, stated in a release issued Monday. "We hope to create a fan base that is unified in its support for the REDBLACKS and we will continue to strive to do our best in that regard."

If this seems like the most Ottawa thing ever, it kind of is, but in a good way.

The nation's capital is a city of reasonable accommodation; generally, here in Ottawa, life's too short to turn everything into a cultural and linguistic flashpoint. (The use of aboriginal imagery, of course, is always the exception, everywhere.)

The focus should be on how Hunt and the Redblacks understood the market shapes the product. It realized that, in an era where social media means every dissenting opinion can theoretically be heard and has vast reach, that it could ill-afford to cross a line. It's also worth noting the Ottawa team's predecessor, the Renegades (2002-05), had difficulty breaking the Montreal Alouettes' hold on CFL fans in western Quebec. The Redblacks have, so far, done well, at breaking down that barrier.

This took place on a much smaller scale than any other mascot controversy involving a professional football team in a capital city. Yet the contrast between Hunt and the Redblacks attempting to make nice and put it right, compared to the intransigence and tone-deafness of Daniel Snyder, is so obvious I'm not even sure it should be pointed out. (And yes, it's ironic it took much, much longer for a youth football program in Ottawa to change its genuinely offensive name.)

So this is actually a smart move on the Redblacks' part; better safe than sorry. The new franchise, give or take a disgruntled Kevin Glenn, has done well with everything it can control during its launch. How people receive a new initiative is out of its hands, and the Redblacks were humble enough to respond.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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