Gordon Monson: Time for a Utah credit union and the Utah Royals to dump the ‘America First’ name and logo

Some have scoffed at the soccer fans who have protested the sponsorship, but the idea deserves a deeper look.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals defender Imani Dorsey (28) during their season opener at America First Field Saturday, March 16, 2024, in Sandy, Utah.

Here’s a call not just for the Utah Royals to take the America First name and logo off the front of its jersey and off its stadium as the team’s headline sponsor, but also for America First Credit Union to change its name.

That might cost a nickel or two, but some things, even for a financial institution that’s in the business of making a whole lot of nickels, are more important than others. Like what a name stands for, what it symbolizes.

No matter what America First intends for its name to represent, and it makes arguments that it stands for communal good, to too many people — and historically speaking — it does not represent communal good. It represents racism; it represents antisemitism; it represents isolationism; it represents xenophobia; it represents keeping America the way it was once supposedly favored to be, back when it was largely white Protestant; some even link it to Nazi ideology; it represents an extreme political movement unbecoming of a company that wants to be of service to all Utahns.

Read up on the history of the term; the dark side of its duality is enlightening.

Before we dive any deeper here, let’s make some concessions:

1) I’ve done some business with AFCU, and never, not once, have I gotten the impression that anyone associated with the company holds or espouses any of the aforementioned negative views; and 2) while I do not know any of the executives who played a role in switching the credit union’s name back in the ‘80s from Federal Employees Credit Union to America First, the guess here is that they didn’t do it to promote a particular prejudicial cause or to exclude certain individuals or groups of individuals from participating in their services; and 3) the company declared as much, issuing a recent statement to The Salt Lake Tribune, saying that their motives were not to exclude anyone at any time: “Throughout its 85-year history, America First Credit Union has worked to put the financial needs and interests of its members and community first — never losing sight of their founding principle of ‘people helping people.’”

Furthermore, the company said its logo represents the North American Bald Eagle, which is “stylistically designed to look similar to the wings worn by many of the brave service men and women in our armed forces.”

It is not meant to be stylistically designed to look similar to the National Socialist eagle put so prominently on display during the reign of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany, even though it kind of does.

OK, all of that said, get the name off the stadium, get it off the team jersey, get it off the company marquee. Good — but uninformed — intentions aren’t enough, not in this case.

Both the team and the institution are better than that. And if they aren’t better, then they should get better.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals forward Ally Sentnor (9) during their season opener at America First Field Saturday, March 16, 2024, in Sandy, Utah.

That’s what society as a whole can do, especially as it attempts to make space for those who have been historically harmed and those who too often are marginalized still.

It should and can stare down the problems of the past and the present, acknowledge them and change them. If a name and a logo are emblematic of a legacy of sympathizing with or, at a minimum, ignoring Nazism and promoting racism and political extremism, it shouldn’t take a business brainiac or a nuclear scientist or even a leftwing nut to recognize it as damaging, destructive and disposable.

Hold on a second, America First defenders say, just because that slogan once was tossed around to keep America from saving the world from Nazi aggression, just because it was used in an attempt to keep America white, to push racial hatred and abuse in America, just because KKK leader David Duke used it in his senate campaign, just because Donald Trump used it in his bid for the White House, doesn’t mean it’s … um, bad.

No. Only bad to the bone.

As you may have heard, fan groups connected to other teams in the National Women’s Soccer League have challenged and complained about the use by the Utah Royals of America First as a sponsor, claiming that its name and logo are a combo-pack of the exact opposite of the model and message the league and its teams want to stand for. And they’re right.

Counter-complainers, even Gov. Spencer Cox, think they are wrong.

But see, the name and logo in question don’t necessarily hurt him, don’t directly hurt people who look like him, but they do hurt many others. This is not a case of something being good for who it’s for. The Royals should be a team for everybody in Utah, should represent everybody here, should represent what is best about this state. Not what is best for a portion of the state, while it represents negativity not just for some people in this state, but in other states as well.

You’d think a credit union would want to be fully aware of and absolutely sensitive to and pliable regarding that, too. Words and symbols matter.

It’s easy, apparently, for those who are ignorant about or who refuse to acknowledge the mistakes of the past and the present, those who’ve never felt the stinging pain of racism, those who say, “the hell with the rest of the world,” to see the bright side of what “America First” means, Its history tied to the Ku Klux Klan and other cruel and exclusionary movements. Take a trip to Germany, to Dachau, to Poland, to Auschwitz, to see what that slogan historically wanted to avoid getting tangled up in righteously stopping.

Turning a blind eye for responsible citizens should be anything but easy.

Yeah. Change the name — of the company and on the jersey and the stadium. Understand why the change is needed, just as products and sports franchises have been renamed over the years. America First Credit Union and the Utah Royals really are better than this, right? They are. Overzealous cancel culture is one thing, canceling lingering representations of hatred and varying levels of discrimination is a reason for thinking men and women, for all Utahns, to support and celebrate.