Why Washington Redskins and Others Need to Change Their Mascot

Today at lunch, a friend of mine brought up the recent Huntington Post article “Here Are The Most Tasteless Mascots You’ll See Outside Of A Redskins Game”Included on the list are the Coachella Valley Arabs, the Akron East Orientals, and the Robstown Cottonpickers, among others.

Why is this EVER okay?
Why is this EVER okay?

As Joanna Schroeder from Good Men Project writes, “If you wouldn’t wear a New York Jews or San Francisco Chinamen hat, you shouldn’t encourage sports teams to use Native images, names or iconography.”

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I have no significant Native heritage, but I do have experiences on a reservation that showed me the beauty of an oft forgotten culture. I lived on an Indian Reservation with YouthWorks in 2012. While there, we had a wonderful mentor and community friend name Corey Greaves. Corey was a strong Blackfeet man, passionate about Native American sovereignty and reconciliation. He was admittedly a little intimidating to a group of twenty-something who had little experience with Native rights issues. But the intimidation of the moment was overwhelmed by his grace. He had had issues with YouthWorks, but still treated us kindly. He knew the pain of racism, but he didn’t let it be a barrier to friendship.

When we first meet Corey, he told us all about himself, his people, and his ministry, Mending Wings. We spoke with him for over an hour before conversation shifted from ministry and logistics to people and relationships. I distinctly remember football being brought into conversation. Living just three hours from Seattle, Corey is a die hard Seahawks fan. It was admittedly awkward mentioning that I am a Dallas Cowboys fan (Cowboys and Indians have a bad history, so you know). But their disdain for Cowboys (or at least my perceived disdain…I was nervous), was minute compared to the distaste they had for Native American mascots.

These mascots are far to common in a society that is supposed to be post-racism. But these caricatures of Indigenous people still exist. Unfortunately, most people just don’t find the names offensive, not that that is any justification. In a poll done by the Kansas City Star, only 189 people of nearly 2000 said that both the Chiefs and the Washington Football Franchise should change their name. 477 said that just Washington should change their name. But that leaves 1300 people, 65% of people polled, who said that neither name is offensive! An ESPN poll showed similar results with 80% of people in approval of the names. This goes beyond political correctness–by allowing this system to exist, we are encouraging racism. Absolutely no way around it. These are caricatures of living people; people who hurt; people who have needs; people who have been largely rejected and abused by society. To say that the mascots don’t matter, or that their implications don’t matter, is to say that this people group does not matter. It is to subject Natives to history and not reality. To relegate them to black and white photos in history books and not the living beings among us.

Washington Football Franchise owner Daniel Snyder offered his opinion on the controversy:

To Everyone in our Washington Redskins Nation:

As loyal fans, you deserve to know that everyone in the Washington Redskins organization — our players, coaches and staff — are truly privileged to represent this team and everything it stands for. We are relentlessly committed to our fans and to the sustained long-term success of this franchise.

That’s why I want to reach out to you — our fans — about a topic I wish to address directly: the team name, “Washington Redskins.” While our focus is firmly on the playing field, it is important that you hear straight from me on this issue. As the owner of the Redskins and a lifelong fan of the team, here is what I believe and why I believe it.

Like so many of you, I was born a fan of the Washington Redskins. I still remember my first Redskins game.

Most people do. I was only six, but I remember coming through the tunnel into the stands at RFK with my father, and immediately being struck by the enormity of the stadium and the passion of the fans all around me.

I remember how quiet it got when the Redskins had the ball, and then how deafening it was when we scored. The ground beneath me seemed to move and shake, and I reached up to grab my father’s hand. The smile on his face as he sang that song … he’s been gone for 10 years now, but that smile, and his pride, are still with me every day.

That tradition — the song, the cheer — it mattered so much to me as a child, and I know it matters to every other Redskins fan in the D.C. area and across the nation.

Our past isn’t just where we came from — it’s who we are.

Tradition! We have to keep the name because of tradition! Remember that one time when I was a boy and the team was named the Redsk*ns? We can’t tarnish that memory by changing the name! Or what about the song? We’d have to change the song! Excuse the satire. Compare that to what the National Congress of American Indians reported:

““Often citing a long-held myth by non-Native people that ‘Indian’ mascots ‘honor Native people,’ American sports businesses such as the NFL’s Washington ‘Redsk*ns’ and Kansas City ‘Chiefs,’ MLB’s Cleveland ‘Indians’ and Atlanta ‘Braves,’ and the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, continue to profit from harmful stereotypes originated during a time when white superiority and segregation were common place.”

“Each of these professional sports businesses attempt to establish a story of honoring Native peoples through the names or mascots; however, each one — be it through logos or traditions (e.g., fight songs, mascots, human impersonators and fan culture) — diminishes the place, status and humanity of contemporary Native citizens.

“What is true about many of the brand origin stories is that team owners during the birth of these brands hoped to gain financially from mocking Native identity. As a result, these business perpetuated racial and political inequity. Those who have kept their logos and brands continue to do so.”

But Snyder does make one good point–“Our past isn’t just where we came from–it’s who we are.” Our past is riddled with theft of land, deception, lies, false treaties, kidnapping, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. Indian Boarding schools still tried to cleanse Native American children of their heritage well into the 20th century. There are still people who are suffering the consequences of American abuse. Our past, our horrible past, still shapes who we are–as individuals and as a culture–today.  Regardless of whether or not my ancestors or I have personally done anything to the harm of a Native person, as a white American I am a beneficiary of Native American abuse. I have some reconciling to do on behalf of my peoples. That is why it is so crucial we recognize our past–when we forget our past, we will never reconcile historical wrongs and people will continue to suffer.

But we do unfortunately have a short view of history, and the historical knowledge the general populace has was written through the lens of the victorious Americans and not the “losers” of the historical narrative. Having a short view of history is how things like this are possibly allowed to happen at a high school football game.

Next Week: Holocaust references at the soccer game.
Next Week: Holocaust references at the soccer game.
Again, from Joanna Schroeder, “The truth is this: Today, the only ethnic or racial iconography/imagery being used for team mascots in the United States is done at the expense of Native people, and that reality shows the depths to which we have forgotten about the mass genocide that took place on the land we occupy, and how profoundly we dehumanize the cultures of Native people…If you wouldn’t let this exploitation and dehumanization happen to anybody else—Asian Americans, Jewish Americans, Black Americans—then why are you letting it happen here?”
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