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Lia Dopp

Mrs. Erskine

English 111

15 December 2017

Native American Mascots

The use of Native Americans as mascots by professional sports teams is demeaning, has a

negative impact on Native Americans, and demonstrates a culture dominated by the white

majority. By portraying Native Americans in a homogenized fashion, society is ignoring the

enormous difference that exist between tribes. The Native American community has spent

millions of dollars in the last two decades trying to fight the racism propagated using these

demeaning mascots.

Native American mascots illustrate a perceived hierarchy between racial groups. Since

1970, the American Indian Movement has advocated to remove Native American mascots, logos,

and names. Examples of sports teams that use these mascots include; “Redmen,” “Fighting

Sioux,” “Utes,” “Savages,” Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Redskins, and

Cleveland Indians (Eitzen and Zinn 48-51). Some behavior of fans associated with these team

names are offensive. Fans carrying rubber tomahawks, wearing colorful headdresses, face

painting with “war paint” and, shouting mockery war whoops with a beer in one hand and a

tomahawk in the other show perpetuation of stereotypes of Native Americans by the dominate

non-native culture.

This depiction of Native Americans as bloodthirsty warriors distorts history, since whites

invaded Indian lands, oppressed native peoples, and even employed and justified a policy

of genocide toward them (Eitzen and Zinn 48-51).


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Native Americans and animals are the only groups made into mascots by professional sports

teams, leaving many Natives experiencing feelings of insensitivity toward their culture and rich

history. Native Americans should be honored for the vast history and successes they have

brought to America. Americans should honor them instead of demonizing them through these

mascots.

The use of “Indian” sports brands by professional sports teams started when most

Americans were accepting of racism and bigotry. Since then, branding of sports teams has

become a marketing strategy to incite cultural superiority of one group over another and in doing

so it has perpetuated racial tensions. The Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins are

examples of derogatory and harmful professional sports mascots. The use of the derogatory

term, Redskins, is harmful to Native American youth and adolescents and used as a racial slur;

therefore, it is imperative that the mascot must change ("It's Time to Change the Redskins' Racist

Name"). Many Native Americans the use of Indians as a mascot offensive, outdated, derogatory,

racist, ugly, and demeaning.

Louis Sockalexis a member of the Penobscot tribe and the son of a tribal chief, had huge

success on the baseball field leading him to become a national sensation. He is said to have

inspired the Cleveland Indians logo of Chief Wahoo. The logo depicts a firetruck red, grinning

caricature. Chris Sockalexis, a relative of Louis Sockalexis and the Penobscot tribe has historic

preservation officer, thinks this mascot is simply demeaning. The Penobscot tribe is strongly

supporting Major League Baseball officials who are encouraging the Cleveland Indians to move

away from the logo. In October of 2016, the effort to remove the logo took on urgency when

Bob Manfred, the Major League Baseball commissioner began to discussions with the Indians.

The Cleveland's have changed their primary logo to a block C but this does not satisfy the
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Penobscot tribe, the Cleveland Indians still display this horrifying logo on merchandise

(Macquarrie B.1). Many Native Americans do not understand why this baseball team feels they

need to disgrace a group of people through their sport.

The National Football League is no exception in dishonoring Native Americans as

mascots. The Washington Redskins do not hesitate in using a hurtful racial slur as their team

name. The term Redskins originates from the historical practice of trading Native American

scalps and body parts as bounties and trophies. Simply put, European settlers were paid to

collect Native American scalps, or Redskins. The bounty for a male Penobscot older than 12

years of age was 50 pounds and the bounty for his scalp was 40 pounds. The bounty for a female

or male Penobscot under the age of 12 years was 25 pounds, while the bounty for their scalps

was 20 pounds.

The use of the term Redskins by the National Football League is unneeded and has a

profound negative effect on Native American youth and young adults. Redskins owner, Dan

Snyder, refuses to change the name of his football team. Dan Snyder’s argument to keep the

Redskins name is the 81year history the team has had with the name and believes the name acts

as the heritage of the team. One could argue, Native Americans have been the target of this

racial slur for much longer than 81 years. He also claims the term Redskins describes the team's

goals for the future and expresses who they are (Demby). Wade Henderson is the president of

the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights which represents over two hundred

national organizations. In December of 2013, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human

Rights supported a resolution in calling upon the Washington team to drop the offensive racial

slur. Henderson, claimed that, “A slur is a slur is a slur . . . Celebrating and commodifying

stereotypes should have no place in 21st century America” (qtd. in Vargas). Studies have proven
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the harmful and negative ways “Indian” sport mascots play in emphasizing racial inequity and

perpetuating feeling of inadequacy among Native American youth. These feelings of inadequacy

contribute to Native Americans ranking highest for all minority groups in youth suicide.

There may be some progress in reversing the use of Native American mascots.

Massachusetts lawmakers are considering banning Native American mascots in schools after the

town of Tewksbury rejected efforts to change the name of its high school to the Redmen

(Leblanc and Salsberg). Adidas, a clothing, and shoe manufacturer, wants to help high schools

move away from harmful Native American mascots. Adidas has promised to offer financial aid

and design support to schools willing to change their hurtful mascots. The brand has projected

over 2,000 high schools nationally have mascots that are insensitive to Native Americans

(Wagner). However, many say the brand is only doing this to be politically correct and does not

actually believe in the cause due to their sponsoring of a Redskins football player. Although

court cases, protest, companies, and regional political offices have advocated for the removal of

all offensive Native American mascots nothing has changed. The National Football and baseball

leagues have the ability to utilize their monetary advantage to slow down and undermine the

importance of the removal of these mascots. High schools and community colleges are not being

fined or punished for having harmful mascots, leaving them to naturally not care.

People simply need to educate themselves on the harmful effects of using caricatures of

people as mascots. Multiple psychological studies on American Indian youth have documented

the negative effects of Native American mascots and sports visual symbolism. The problem

arises when the white majority thinks they have the right to decide Native American history is

their own history and put “their” history into mascots. The bottom-line is, Native Americans are

people, not mascots.


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Works Cited

Demby, Gene. “An Uphill Battle To Push An NFL Team To Change Its Name.” NPR, NPR, 7

Oct. 2013, www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/10/07/230221006/an-uphill-battle-to-

push-an-nfl-team-to-change-its-name.

Eitzen, D. Stanley, and Maxine Baca Zinn. “The Dark Side of Sports Symbols.” USA Today

(Farmingdale), 2001, pp. 48–51. SIRS Issues Researcher, sks.sirs.com. Accessed 27 Nov.

2017.

“It's Time to Change the Redskins' Racist Name.” Indian Country Media Network, 31 July 2013,

indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/opinions/its-time-to-change-the-redskins-racist-

name/.

Leblanc, Steve, and Bob Salsberg. “Massachusetts Bill Would Ban Native American School

Mascots.” Greenfield Recorder, 2017. SIRS Issues Researcher, sks.sirs.com. Accessed 27

Nov. 2017.

Macquarrie, Brian. “Tribe Wants Indians' Logo Called Out.” Boston Globe, 2017, p. B.1. SIRS

Issues Researcher, sks.sirs.com. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.

Vargas, Theresa. “For Native American Activists, a New Post Poll on Redskins Name...”

Washington Post, 2016. SIRS Issues Researcher, sks.sirs.com. Accessed 1 Dec. 2017.

Wagner, Laura. “Adidas Offers To Help U.S. High Schools Phase Out Native American

Mascots.” NPR, NPR, 5 Nov. 2015, www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-

way/2015/11/05/454902114/adidas-offers-to-help-u-s-high-schools-phase-out-native-

american-mascots.
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