After all, it isn’t very easy to wear your favorite team’s jersey when some consider it to be offensive. The controversy has roots that go back hundreds of years, to a time when terms like “Redskin” were not used to refer to a football team, making it immensely complicated.
Whether it is mascots or team names, there are often two sides that strongly support or oppose their existence. Some believe that the logos pay tribute to the fighting spirit of the Native American, and portray them in a positive light. Others believe that these logos reinforce stereotypes that are offensive, and therefore inaccurately displays the true culture and complexity of Native Americans.
It is a touchy subject to write about. I know that I find myself cringing when I hear the word “Redskins” on SportsCenter, or when I see the Cleveland Indians’ logo “Chief Wahoo,” who might actually be the worst of all.
As someone with a very small amount of Native American heritage, I have been taught to respect Native Americans and not support these types of mascots. Initially, I was going to write this piece supporting the change of these mascots. However, I have found that there are actually studies that indicate that many Native Americans don’t seem to mind these mascots, or even support them. After all, some Native American mascots are more respectful than others, which makes the controversy all the more complex.
Take the University of Illinois, for example. Chief Illiniwek, their previous mascot, represented the worst of Native American mascots. It was stereotypical and offensive, and I was glad that it was changed. However, Florida State’s mascot, the Seminoles, is a completely different story. The Seminole tribe is not only a real tribe, but they completely support the usage of their name as the mascot for Florida State. It is done respectfully, and it doesn’t seem to generate the same amount of controversy as the others.
In 2004, the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 91 percent of Native Americans were not offended by the term “Redskins.” Similarly, in 2002 Sports Illustrated found that 81 percent of the Native Americans they interviewed that lived off of a reservation were not offended by Native American mascots, and that 53 percent that did live on reservations were also not offended. While these polls could possibly be outdated, and there are certainly potential flaws with the polling population, they do have some interesting implications.
With a country as diverse as ours, with as many different groups and cultures, there are a variety of causes for people to be offended. It is unfortunate, but perhaps unpreventable. A strong case would have to be made to change the names of sports teams such as the New Orleans Saints or the Los Angeles Angels, even if it was potentially offensive to the non-religious.
However, we still need to be culturally sensitive and aware of the implications of such mascots. If the majority of Native Americans made a strong enough protest to get rid of these mascots, I would completely support this effort. As of now, however, this doesn’t seem to be the case.
I believe the only people who can truly decide if these mascots should be changed are the ones affected by it. Perhaps a majority of Native Americans really don’t care, or even support these mascots. The term “Native American” itself is complex, given the number of different tribes and different cultures of these tribes. These mascots represent all of them, however, and it should be up to them to decide if they should be continued or not. For people such as myself, who aren’t affected at all by these mascots, we should just support whatever they decide, if that time ever comes.
Nick Ulferts is a junior english education major and columnist for The Vidette. Any questions or comments regarding his column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.