The Washington Redskins. Kansas City Chiefs. Chicago Blackhawks. Atlanta Braves. Central Michigan Chippewas. Twin Lakes Indians.
in a name of a sports team? What does it mean if that name is
considered offensive or derogatory to the group, even when the sports
team or school suggest the name was meant as an honor?
issue around the use of Native American nicknames for sports teams has
been around for a long time. Interest in the Washington Redskins
changing its named picked up steam in May, when a group of congressmen
as diverse of Republican Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Democrat Betty
McCollum of Minnesota urged Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to
change the name of the NFL team, which has been around since 1932.
like past owners of the franchise, dismissed the recommendation, saying
he would never change the name of the Washington Redskins. Never, ever.
course, names such as these are meant to honor Native Americans for
their strength, bravery and courage. Right? They are meant to recognize a
location of Native American history or recognize their contributions.
Yeah, that’s what they all say.
it seems strange that the honors and recognition never extend beyond
the cheering crowds of the athletic teams or the mockery of Native
American traditions in the name of sports.
Freeland, a Native American doctoral candidate studying at Purdue
University, called the use of such names “outdated,” but people continue
to hang on to them for a supposed sense of tradition. He said he
believes it builds a false persona about Native Americans.
larger argument right now is that it builds an entire perception of
people, like Native American, that is false. Not only that it’s false,
but it’s glorified, bought, sold and heralded as something that is
proper and praised. That’s an insult to native people and indigenous
people in the U.S.”
of the Washington Redskins nickname continued to grow, including Peter
King from Sports Illustrated, Christine Brennan from USA Today, and
Salon.com, which is refusing the use the term Redskins and other Native
American nicknames in its sports stories.
Granted, I never gave much thought about the subject until 1994, when
I attended what was called the Unity Conference, the first joint
convention of national minority journalists groups in Atlanta. During
one forum, I met the late Native American activist Vernon Bellecourt.
passionate speech about his stand against Chief Wahoo, the mascot of
the Cleveland Indians, still moves me today. The way he described how
native children are teased and taunted by images that are massed
produced and glorified in sports pages, and the way Native Americans
were portrayed in general as only these savage warriors to be feared,
stopped me cold.
wrote a column on the subject in 1997 when I was a reporter at the
Toledo Blade, at the time Miami University changed its nickname from the
Redskins to the RedHawks.
great thing about America is our capacity to look at ourselves and
right our own injustices. On some issues, we are little slow; on others,
we may walk sideways or backwards at times. But eventually, we get it
case, that only happens with an honest, frank discussion about targeting
one specific ethnic group for these names. Would we accept the Ragin’
Caucasians? The Runnin’ Negros? The Fightin’ Latinos? If not, why do we
insist on keeping the Redskins and Indians?
I hear some people say that the issue of Native American nicknames is
not even matter worth discussing — which is the position Snyder has
taken with the Washington Redskins — it tells me one thing: You don’t
want the discussion because you know you are on the losing side of the
challenge — more of a dare — to those sports teams, colleges and high
schools that use Native American nicknames is to invite someone such as
Freeland or another Native American to speak to your masses. Purdue’s
Native American Educational and Cultural Center would be an outstanding
place to start.
almost have this perception among people that we’re just a symbol,”
Freeland said. “You have to remind them that we are actually people. The
majority of people have never met a Native American person in their
life. The primary problem is they are unable to empathize with each
about it. Would Robert Griffin III be any less of quarterback if his
team wasn’t named the Redskins? Would Hank Aaron be any less of a Hall
of Fame baseball player if the team he played for wasn’t named the
Braves? Would Twin Lakes High School would any less of the outstanding
institution it is for his children if its sports teams were not named
the answer to those questions is no, then why is it so hard to even have
talk about its use of its use of Native American sports nickname?
Hughes is a member of the Greater Lafayette Commerce's Diversity Roundtable.