EDITOR’S NOTE: This article, written by Gary Norris Gray, first appeared on BASN in July of 2005. However, little has changed since it was posted. Given the current success of some of the teams mentioned in this article, we look to raise this important issue yet again.
CALIFORNIA — Now that teams like the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins are winning again its time to rethink this subject. we all need to be reminded that we are our brothers keepers and we should help each other.
After 50 years, Native American Indians are still fighting the fight to get American Professional Sports teams to change their names or at least respect the names they have chosen for their teams. African Americans should be supporting our Native American brothers and sisters in this historic effort.
The Braves, Chiefs, Indians, Redskins, and Warriors are the five professional teams with generic Native American names, names that mean little or nothing to the average American man, woman, or child.
Now is the time to ask: America, how would Americans feel if some of the professional teams had names like, THE DENVER DARKIES, OR HOUSTON HONKIES, CHICAGO CHINKS maybe THE NEWARK NIGGERS, or even WASHINGTON STATE WHITE BOYS?
Does not sound favorable, does it?
That is the same effect the name of the NFL’s Washington Redskins on most Native Americans; Redskin is not a kind word and the media uses it in a very detrimental and demeaning way.
Being part Native American, our family rooted for the Washington Redskins to beat the Dallas Cowboys time after time, year after year. In the 1970′s Americans would see these two teams battle on Thanksgiving Day.
Americans did not know the negative connotation of the name Redskin. Most of us understand now, so we cannot hide in our ignorance any longer. THE REDSKIN NAME NEEDS TO BE REMOVED. The citizens of the Washington D.C.
area should demand this change.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) launched a massive campaign to inform America and Americans about the use and misuse of American Indian names. This group was formed to address the stereotypes in print media, in electronic media, and this included the sports world as well.
This group wanted to combat the racist statements some college and professional teams make with their Native American team logos, mascots, and nicknames.
To date, there are over 1,500 Junior high, high school, college, and professional teams using logos, nicknames, and mascots of Native Americans. This figure has dropped from the staggering 3,000 in the mid 1950′s and 60′s.
In 2001, the United States Commission on Civil Rights issued its second statement on the use of Native American Images and Nicknames as Sports Symbols. The Commission stated that lower level schools and programs willingly gave up their Native American symbols and switched very quickly to make peace with the Native American community.
The higher the sports program, the stronger the resistance to change.
Professional teams to this day refuse to change their names or their logos. The Washington Redskins and The Kansas City Chiefs (football), The Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves (baseball), and the Golden State Warriors (basketball) are classic examples of this resistance.
The Oakland based Golden State Warriors have drifted away from any references to its Native American past and its currently the only professional team to do so.
The Washington Redskins football team cited finances as the problem for not changing their name but that can be very hard to believe after the Washington Bullets basketball team changed their name to the Washington Wizards in 1995-96.
The team changed their name after the very high murder rate in the District of Columbia claimed many young African American lives by gunfire. So the Redskins issue of money is now null and void with the Wizards claim to National fame.
Let’s backtrack to the very beginning of this on going debate. The battle began at Dartmouth College, now Dartmouth University. Their name at the time (Indians), changed to “THE BIG GREEN” in 1968-1969, after a long protracted campus demonstration by Native Americans, Dartmouth students, and school Administrators, with the help of the National Congress of American Indians.
The change occurred rather peacefully.
Three years later on the West Coast, Stanford University (Indians) located in Palo Alto, California followed in the footsteps of Dartmouth, changing their name to “THE CARDINAL” or “TREE”.
The students, administration, and teachers were in admiration of the Native American Protest on Alcatraz Island in 1972-74. This protest on Alcatraz Island reminded America about the oppressive and troublesome situation of most Native American citizens.
Here are some of the psychological and physical effects of using negative Native American mascots, nicknames, and logos.
The misconceived and self-serving concept of having Native American mascots in these American houses of learning is dehumanizing and perpetuates inaccurate stereotypes. Native American children are learning that their ancestors were wild and untamed humans. Most American media often betrays this war-like violent behavior. Just watch any old black and white cowboy movie. We all know who the heroes will be.
The United States Department of Justice stated that Native Americans are twice as likely to be a victim of violent crime than African or Asian Americans. Overall, poor people in America are impacted more by violent crimes.
Most sports figures or teams have their own rituals, battle cries, maybe even imitating real battles and real wars. At the beginning of every University of Illinois football game or a Florida State University football game a male dresses in Native American warrior gear and rides out on his trusty horse. The Seminole, or Illini, rider gallops across the field with a flaming spear in his hand throwing it into the ground at the 50-yard line, thus signaling the beginning of the game. This ritual is executed time and time again. This performance perpetuates the stereotype of violent savage behavior by Native Americans. Wanting war against the opposing team.
These five profession teams have cartoon-like characterization of mascots, i.e. Chief Wahoo of baseball’s Cleveland Indians. This mechanism is well known and often used during times of war to dehumanize an enemy. The result allows the portrayer to trivialize the concerns of the one being portrayed and simultaneously helps protect self-esteem by relieving guilt feelings. This was done also to African Americans after the Civil War, in books, songs, and poems throughout post Civil War America. The examples portray African Americans as shiftless, shady, and lazy people, Native Americans as wild beasts that cannot be tamed, Asian Americans as very smart. These a! re all stereotypes used for mascots, nicknames and logos.
Even the concept of having mascots or nicknames may be, in reality, an ego defense. Thus, the honoring of Native Americans, African Americans, or Asian Americans could protect one from facing the real facts of past genocidal horrors inflicted on the very individuals they are honoring.
Having Native or African American mascots freezes time in a period one is more conformable with, never wanting to know, or never wanting to see the truth of past historical events. America has continuously run away from historical facts while trying to sugar coat horrendous events. Events like the Civil War are glorified not telling the historical trama it caused the nation.
The lack of political power, monetary power, and social power to demand the removal of these mascots maintain the status quo of institutionalized racism at college campuses and at the professional levels.
As a Native American watching teams like The San Diego Aztecs, The Chattanooga Moccasins, The University of Utah Utes, and The Central Mich. Chippewas made me very proud because they represented one tribe, one nation, unlike the Golden State Warriors, Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, and Washington Redskins.
The future looks promising in dismantling a lot of Native American mascots throughout America. The University of North Dakota FIGHTING SIOUX is currently taking steps to remove their logo from all sports uniforms.
UND has been known to have a very good hockey team going to the “Frozen Four” college hockey final four many times.
The Marquette University Warriors in 1972 abandoned the “Willie Wampum” mascot and in 1994-95 season changed their name to “Golden Eagles”. The St John’s Redman also changed their name to Red Storm in 1990, dropping their Indian logo on every sports uniform. All of these fine universities and colleges are making a good faith effort to respect and honor Native Americans, leaving many sports fans questioning why the professional teams cannot follow suit?
The Atlanta Braves dropped Chief Nocahoma from their program in 1980. Chief Nocahoma would dance after every Atlanta Braves home run, but fans of the Braves still maintain the Tomahawk Chop (which is not Native American). The Cleveland Indians dropped smiling Chief Wahoo on their caps, uniforms, and press media guides. Only to have it return in 1994 when the team moved into their new stadium. Again being insensitive to Native Americans.
African Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans need to help our Native American brothers and sisters in this battle for respect and honor. This may even mean a economic boycott of the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Washington Redskins.
Please read about the past sports mascots and help (AISTM) American Indian Sports Team Mascots and The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). Some of the information in this article comes from the NCAI, AISTM and Gibbs Magazine web sites.
Post Script : Since the original posting of this article, these events have and will take place.
– The U.S. Congress and Senate is slated to hold hearings on this subject during the spring of 2008.
– The University of North Dakota reinstated their “Fighting Sioux” mascot during the 2005-06 hockey season.
– The University of Ilinois retired their “Fighting Illini” mascot under a storm of protest and tears in 2007.