This football season, would you root for a team named the Boston Darkies, with a smiling Sambo mascot jumping around on the sidelines? Or, how about the Houston Beaners, whose uniforms feature a logo with a man sleeping under a sombrero?
If you would not root for these teams, then why would you root for the Washington Redskins or the Kansas City Chiefs? The names of these and other sports teams across the nation are just as demeaning to Native Americans as the fictional teams above are to African Americans and Hispanics. Yet, these teams continue to capitalize on these offensive stereotypes because too many people are insensitive to the feelings of Native Americans.
It is not just a problem with football teams either. In baseball, the Cleveland Indians feature a grinnin’ Injun logo on their uniforms, and we saw, throughout the National League playoffs and World Series, the Atlanta Braves fans do the ‘Tomahawk Chop” and chant Indian war cries. In fact, those little foam-rubber tomahawks are sanctioned by the team and sold at the souvenir stands at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
Why aren’t more people outraged by this? Native Americans surely are, and thanks to their protests at the World Series, they have raised everyone else’s level of awareness just a little bit on this issue. Unfortunately, most people still do not see this as a problem – they see these caricatures as harmless fun, instead of the demeaning insults that they are.
This insensitivity has been bred by the oppression white men have heaped upon the natives of this continent for the last 500 years. Native Americans have been the victims of the largest genocide in history, larger in scope and duration than anything experienced by even the Jews or Armenians. And how is this ongoing tragedy remembered? Not by memorials or observances, but by foam-rubber tomahawks and grown men clowning around in feathered headdresses.
The Braves made the right move a few years ago when they dropped their mascot, Chief Noc-A-Homa, who used to jump out of his tepee in the left field stands in full Indian regalia and do a home run dance every time the Braves got a rally going. However, many teams, particularly some college football teams, still use similar mascots. This type of characterization is very offensive to Native Americans, particularly when it involves a feathered headdress, which carries great religious significance to them. How would Catholics feel if they saw a mascot in papal robes and a miter leading the crowd in “Hail Marys?”
Now that the World Series is over, Braves President Stan Kasten has said that the team will consider the possibility of dropping the name. Stanford and Dartmouth have already taken this step. Let’s hope the Braves and other college and professional sports teams will follow suit.
Journalism operations manager at the University of La Verne. Production manager and business manager of the Campus Times.