Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy

Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy

Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy

Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy

Synopsis

A growing controversy in recent years has arisen around the use and abuse of Native American team mascots. The Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Florida State Seminoles, and so forth-these are just a few of the images and names popularly associated with Native Americans that are still used as mascots by professional sports teams, dozens of universities, and countless high schools. This practice, a troubling legacy of Native-Euro-American relations in the United States, has sparked heated debates and intense protests that continue to escalate. Team Spirits is the first comprehensive look at the Native American mascots controversy. In this work activists and academics explore the origins of Native American mascots, the messages they convey, and the reasons for their persistence into the twenty-first century. The essays examine hotly contested uses of mascots, including the Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Indians, and the University of Illinois's Chief Illiniwek, as well as equally problematic but more complicated examples such as the Florida State Seminoles and the multitude of Native mascots at Marquette University. Also showcased are examples of successful opposition, including an end to Native American mascots at Springfield College and in Los Angeles public schools.

Excerpt

Sports mascots have come under increasing fire by American Indians as they try to achieve equal status as an identifiable ethnic group within American society. No other group faces this particular problem, and the unique nature of the situation calls for serious deliberations. Why are Indians singled out as a group of people devoid of the sentiments that characterize other groups? No team in any sport has its logo or slogans used to demean another identifiable ethnic, religious, or economic group.

One answer may be the long tradition of virulent racism against the original inhabitants best illustrated in the nursery rhyme “ Ten Little Indians, ” which celebrated the genocide of local Indian tribes in the eastern United States. Some years ago a national publisher released a book of “animals and their children, ” and prominently displayed among the deer, raccoons, and birds were mother and her child. And when a group of us filed to cancel the trademark of the Washington Redskins, some sportswriters complained that now Bears, Dolphins, and Lions would all complain. This kind of racism is buried so deeply in the American psyche that it may be impossible to resolve. No one seriously holds these views as a conscious part of their understanding of the world. But, in the spur-of-the-moment response, this profound racism rises quickly to consciousness and is expressed before the individual realizes what he or she has said.

With diehard refusal to change the names and logos of sports teams we always hear the justification that the name is being used to “honor” us. This tortured reasoning makes its proponents look . . .

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