Understanding the history behind the portrayal of Native Americans in sports.
Story by Luis Ramirez
The use of Native American mascots in sports is an issue that has long sparked heated debates between Native American communities and various universities and sports franchises. Battles among Native American leaders and sports teams have been taken as high as the Supreme Court. Not every Native American is opposed to having names like the “Chiefs” or the “Seminoles”, but those that are see such titles as degrading and stereotypical.
“The whole issue is that it’s portraying a certain type of Indian,” says University of Oregon Native American Student Union member Rachel Cushman. “It erases all the work Native Americans have done to change their perception as savages.”
The National Football League’s Washington Redskins franchise was named after former head coach, Lone Star Dietz, who claimed to be part Sioux. They were originally named the Boston Braves. In Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians received its title during a request by the club owner to decide a new name, following the 1914 season.
In college, the Florida State Seminoles were named after the Seminole tribe native to the area. The students selected the name in 1947. Other Division I colleges with names derived from Native American tribes include the Central Michigan Chippewas; the Alcorn State Braves; the Utah Utes; and the Arkansas State Indians. In 2005, NCAA officials banned the use of any Native American mascot by a sports team in postseason tournaments. If such change was to take root locally Cushman says, “it would be a huge step towards changing the misconceptions people have on Native Americans.”
Across the country the use of Native Americans in the public sphere continues to draw attention. Organizations such as the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media call the use of such mascots “disgraceful, shameful, racist”. Others argue for the modern tradition and history tied up in the use of such icons as the Cleveland Indians or Washington Redskins. Until a decision is reached, students across the country will be forced to decide whether the logo they wear on the field matches the beliefs they carry inside.