As much as they thump you over the head with messaging claiming otherwise, brands don’t believe in anything. They use market research to calculate what, exactly, their consumers claim to believe, and then co-opt existing movements the moment those beliefs become focus-group tenable. That’s why, when you peruse this year’s slate of Minnesota Wild “Theme Nights,” it’s unsurprising to see PR layups like Educator Appreciation Night, Military Appreciation Night, and, considering the semi-recent corporate embrace of rainbow washing, their second-ever Pride Night.
More head-scratching is Law Enforcement Appreciation Night, set for Nov. 1 at Xcel Energy Center as the Wild face off against the Montreal Canadiens. The arena is located 11 miles from George Floyd Square, the site of a 2020 police murder that prompted global protests and a ballot question last fall that saw 62,813 residents vote to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department. Even with those marketplace realities, Law Enforcement Appreciation Night would probably only have elicited annoyed eye rolls among roughly 43.8% of the metro… if not for the promotional T-shirt.
“I am clearly very dumb for thinking a team that plays in an arena 15 minutes away from where George Floyd was killed would maybe think twice about this,” wrote one user.
“Minnesota Wild coming in hot with the divorced dad drip,” wrote another.
“Literally, all they had to do was just not make a fucking thin blue line shirt and people would’ve been less angry,” wrote one more. “How did nobody in their marketing department realize how much of a PR nightmare it’d be to use that specific kind of imagery?”
Ticket packs will still include that “Wild-branded Hometown Heroes T-shirt,” though suddenly, the team apparently feels queasy about showing it off. (Wild PR reps didn’t respond to Racket’s request for comment*, so we don’t know their motivations or whether that exact shirt design will still be handed out.)
As noted above, the decision to incorporate the politically/ideologically loaded thin blue line insignia is the crux of this outrage. Supporters of the flag claim it’s a benign show of solidarity for cops, but its symbolic meaning has become tethered to its on-the-ground ubiquity at far-right events like the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and the Jan. 6 U.S. Capital insurrection.
Here’s Tim Murphy, writing for Mother Jones:
“The [Jan. 6] mob understood the flag’s meaning perfectly well. The symbol has never been about the idea of respecting laws in the abstract; the very idea of redesigning the American flag in such a manner and aggressively foisting it upon everyone else is a statement of dominance and control and authority. Like the Punisher logo it’s often blended together with, the Thin Blue Line flag is a rejoinder to people who question the work that cops do, laced with no small amount of malice.”
The thin blue line flag “kind of steps into the role played by the Confederate battle flag over the past 70 years or so,” Steve Kantrowitz, a University of Wisconsin historian who studies white supremacy, told The Wisconsin Examiner. UW-Madison Police Chief Kristen Roman banned her on-duty officers from displaying the imagery, saying it has become “co-opted” by extremists with “hateful ideologies,” NBC News reported in January. Locally, after the 2021 police killing of Daunte Wright, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott ordered the removal of a thin blue line flag that flew outside of a police station. “We don’t want the flag to be a flashpoint,” he told reporters.
Click here to read the Marshall Project’s “short, fraught history” of the thin blue line American flag. It’s unclear whether the divisive symbol will be part of the Wild’s future marketing plans.
*Update: Late in the afternoon, we heard back from Wild spokesman Aaron Sickman: “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.”