I am a self-professed sports lunatic. For the longest time, I had never taken a team name or mascot into consideration as being racist or offensive. How could they be? Many of these teams have been around for well over half a decade?if someone was offended, they would have surely spoken up by now, right? College and professional sports teams have mascots and logos that have direct relationships with many Natives groups within North America. The NHL has the Blackhawks, the NFL has the Redskins and Chiefs, Major League Baseball has the Indians and Braves, and even our own CFL has the Eskimos. After being involved in the Native-Newcomer Relations class in my final year at university, I can now see that many of the popular sports teams are a product of the colonization of the Native likeness, packaged nicely through somewhat racist tendencies engrained into society. These standards were so inlaid that I barely recognized them before taking this class.
To me, the term ?Redskin? and the mascot formerly used by the Cleveland Indians (A cartoon red-hued Native wearing a huge smile) are HORRIBLY offensive, and I am not even Native! Fortunately, the Cleveland organization has phased out this logo, replacing it with a more appropriate stylised ?I? instead. One case that has not changed is the Washington Redskins. Several attempts have been made to change the name through the courts systems of the United States to no avail. The latest ruling was even though ?the name disparages Native Americans, [the court] found no evidence of that.? Now someone please correct me if I am wrong, but isn?t the term ?Redskin? equivalent to ?Nigger? to an African American? How does splaying one racial slur across a jersey make it less offensive or more correct than another!?! Names such as ?Savages? and ?Redmen? can?t be called out in everyday use as it is racist and bigoted. Why then, is it okay for people to use these terms while cheering on a sports team?
When I brought up the topic of racism and team names to my friends, one of them retorted back to me ?Well why don?t the Demon Deacons (of Wake Forest) and the Fighting Irish (of Notre Dame) have their names changed as well? True, Demon Deacons could be considered a bit risqu?, but how many cases of demonic possession have occurred with members of the church lately? The ?Irish? title directly links the teams to the University of Notre Dame, yes. However, their mascot is a leprechaun with his ?dukes up.? As far as I know, leprechauns are not real...but Natives sure are.
Not all nicknames and mascots are racist though. Some programs mean to honour Natives, not insult them. For example, my favourite NCAA team is Florida State. Their nickname is the Seminoles, and they have working agreements that Seminole tribe of Florida for the usage of their likeness. Many Seminoles in the Florida area are proud to hear their name chanted throughout the game and feel that it honours to their ancestors past, embodying their spirit in a new facet. Another example of honouring Natives is the New Zealand rugby squad, who perform a startling pre-game chant in M?ori, the native language of New Zealand, in order to ?strike fear? into their opponents. Experiencing ?The Haka? live wells up a primal emotion inside any supporter donning an All Blacks jersey and by the end of it, the sensation has built up inside so much that you are yelling alongside them. It is through these examples that my general reasoning leads me to believe that these teams chose their nicknames in good faith.
I would like to conclude by saying that I have no problem if a nickname and mascot of a university or team appropriately embodies the spirit of whom or what they are representing. Whether it is the surrounding locality, legend, or group that influences the school or team name, I feel that as long as it isn?t racist or derogatory, it can be used by that institution. However, I feel that under certain conditions good judgement should be utilized and permission should have to be granted, especially when the matter concerns real people such as Native groups. I feel that the examples that I provided in this entry prove, in this case, that sport is an unfortunate a microcosm of life. Until a basic respect and acknowledgement is universally accepted, the old mannerisms and stereotypes of generations so steeped in racist attitudes will only perpetuate the cycle of subjugation of Natives in North America, both on and off the playing field.
I chose this particular topic because of its ramifications on both sides of the 49th Parallel. While the thrust of my topic is based on American sources, similar examples unfortunately exist here in Canada as well. I look forward to any potential questions or conversations on this topic,