Indians logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Cleveland Indians are a professional baseball team. The term Indians is general in the sense that it can be seen as not as offensive in comparison to other sports teams’ mascots. However, the Cleveland Indians have been known for their offensive mascot Chief Wahoo – A caricature image of a red skinned chief.
The depiction of the chief is all but what a chief does not stand for. The image is of a bright red complexion and a feathered headband playing up to Native American stereotypes. This mascot has experience much backlash from the Native American community with picketers at games holding signs saying, “People Not Mascots” or “Stop Teaching Your Children Racism.” While there are people who are protesting the existence of the mascot there are equally as many, if not more supporting its existence.
Today the Cleveland Indians have kept their name but phased out Chief Wahoo due to its offensive depiction of Native Americans. Since then the team has adopted a new mascot by the name of Slider. Slider is a creature of some sort, who is fuzzy purple and yellow character who sports the Cleveland Indians uniform at every game.
The Cleveland Indians are an example of the change of in sports and media. Hopefully the Cleveland Indians will set the trend for other major league sports in the relinquishing of the improper use of Native American symbols and names as mascots.
Atlanta Braves infielder Martín Prado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The controversy over the use of Native American names and symbols has been looming over the past few decades. For both sides of the argument there are many ties to tradition whether it is traditions of a sports team or of a culture.
While looking at many different universities, schools and sports teams’ mascot controversies I have noticed a lot of similarities in the pro-side mascot side of the argument. Although all of these mascots are not the same and have their own traditions, pro-mascot fans have a common argument: Our mascot honors Native Americans.
This argument to the controversy has come up many times in my finding within this issue. Most people believe that because the mascot is not meant to be offensive people should not perceive it to be so.
There are also some team names where the name itself does not necessarily connote a negative stigma but it is more of what teams have done with that name. For example the Atlanta Braves baseball team, the term Braves does refer to Native Americans however it is not perceived as a racial slur unlike the Washington Redskins. Although the term “Braves” itself is not seen as offensive, the actual depiction of the mascot can be seen as politically incorrect and insulting to the Native American culture.
Throughout these controversies leaders and activists have arose out of the many debates. One of the most notable leaders in these controversies is Charlene Teters.
Teters was born and raised in Spokane, Washington and is a member of the Spokane Tribe. She is known as an artist and Native American activist. Teters is currently a faculty member of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but also exhibits her art and speaks at college campuses across the nation.
Teters began her activist-career when she spoke out against the University of Illinois mascot the fighting Illini. The University of Illinois was known for their mascot Chief Illiniwek, tradition of the school was to have a student dress as the chief and do a dance during sporting events. By picketing UI sporting events, Teters began to start a national discussion on the use of Native American symbols and names as mascots. Out of this, Teters became the founding member of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media.
Redskins primary logo 1972-1981, 1983-present (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Since the 1980s the name of the NFL team the Washington Redskins has been in conversation because of its controversial name. The Redskins are meant to represent Washington D.C. but is located in suburban Maryland.
The term “Redskin” not only is an offensive term to describe Native Americans but it is a term that describes the bounty people received for the pelts or scalps of Native Americans.
The name of the team was given in honor of the 1933 head coach who was a member of the Sioux nations. Despite this, in conversations about the team name Redskin officials barely mention this explanation. Most Redskin officials and fans believe that the name is not meant to be offensive to the Native American people. In other developments the owner of the Redskins does not believe that the team name is offensive and does not intend on changing it.
In addition to this statement the Redskins also have a section on their official team website called “We Are Proud To Be Called Redskins” where they feature high school athletic teams who use the same team name “Redskins.” This piece not only includes highlights but also quotes from school representatives stating that they see no problem with using the name.
Santana Moss (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There have been protest since the 1980s by the remaining Native American population in the district; however, the current population is only made up of 180 people respectively. Recently the discussion over the team name has been revived because of recent developments and events. On Feb. 7, 2013, the first ever symposium at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian opened conversation on racism in sports teams’ names and mascots. There also have been many Native American activists who have taken action to sue the team because of the offensive meaning to the term redskin. Lastly the current Mayor of Washington D.C., Vincent Gray, stated that if the team were to move back to the district, the name would have to be a topic of conversation.
There is a lack of knowledge on the origins of the term “Redskin” as well as Native American culture. Not finding the term itself or its use of redskin controversial is where there is disconnect with the culture from which it oppresses. Until everyone is familiar with the history behind the term or Native American culture we cannot make an informed stance on the controversy. Regardless of your stance, it is clear that Native Americans find this term offensive and have spoken out against it. I think that because the term redskin is related to this population their opinion on its use is important and should be considered.
English: my own pic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Following the NCAA ban of Native American representations as collegiate mascots, school districts across the nation began to question the perception of their own mascots. Beginning in the 1970s school districts began to analyze the use of Native American representations and changed their mascots or graphics.
Since this time, there have been more than 600 schools to change their mascots. Out of these schools 20 of them were in Oregon. As a state Oregon has implemented some of the most strict restrictions on the use of Native American logos, symbols or names for schools. Schools have until July of 2017 to make changes to names and mascots or face the risk of losing state funding.
High school students (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
While a vote within Salem’s Education Board was 5-1 in favor of changing the mascots, there are still community members who are resisting the change. Supporters of the current mascot argue that the costs of changing all printed uniforms and sports equipment along with other items is unaffordable for the district. The reason for these changes is because the Oregon Board of Education deemed the use of Native American symbols and names as offensive.
Photo courtesy of KC College Game Day
In 2005 the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) declared that mascots deemed offensive to Native Americans be removed or would not be included in post-season activity, which includes bowl games. With this new rule almost 30 collegiate athletic departments have changed their mascots, except for one. This exception was Florida State University’s mascot, Chief Osceola.
Chief Osceola and his Appaloosa horse, Renegade, have been representing FSU since 1978. In the history of FSU football, at the beginning of every game Chief Osceola and his horse storm the field leading the team. Traditions include, the Chief rides out to the center of the field and plants his flaming spear into the ground marking the beginning of the game.
What separates this tradition from others is that Chief Osceola is based off of one of the tribe’s war heroes from the second Seminole War against the United States in the 1830s. With the development of their mascot in 2005, FSU gained the full permission of the Seminole tribes allowing them to keep their mascot and traditions after the NCAA ruling. The Seminole tribe has played a large role in the formation of the FSU mascot. Not only did FSU receive the Seminole tribe’s blessing but they also helped design the Chiefs traditional dress. The Seminole tribe believes that the use of Chief Osceola is a sign of courage and respect for this Seminole leader.
The logo of the Florida State Seminoles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Today, the development of an additional FSU mascot was put into affect to be more family-friendly. The animated character of an Appaloosa horse name Cimarron is now an additional FSU mascot next to the chief. FSU added Cimarron because university officials thought that the Chief Osceola might not be appropriate for certain audiences because of his actions at the beginning of each game.
While other FSU traditions such as the chant or “tomahawk chop” are questionable, the university has cultivated a strong relationship with the Seminole tribe and continue to honor their culture. Florida State’s mascot is a prime example of respecting another culture and honoring the traditions of Native Americans by working collectively to be conscious of all cultures and perspectives.