Ethnic mascots in sports: Offensive? And who gets to decide?

Mursilis

Diamond Member
Mar 11, 2001
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Sorry, this is long.


So, the local professional football team (Washington Redskins) is making headlines again because of its name. Certain Native Americans (NAs) have stated the name is offense, and a recent symposium was held at the National Museum of the American Indian on the topic of the use of NA imagery in sports. Participants were strongly against the “Redskins” name, and most also opposed any use of Indians or Indian-related imagery as sports mascots.

I’m of two minds on this topic, but I’m not certain of my opinions on this, and am still considering other viewpoints.


First, team mascots are generally selected because they reflect strength, aggression, courage, or other attributes the team hopes to display. For example, teams named after birds are the Falcons, Hawks, Eagles, etc., not the Pigeons, Doves, etc. Other animal names tend to reflect predators/carnivores – the Lions, Bears, Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Panthers, etc. Teams named after human groups are usually named after groups like the Raiders, Vikings, Spartans, Pirates, or Warriors – groups associated with war and conquest. Teams are sometimes named for innocuous things, persons, or occupations (Red Sox, White Sox, Stars, Wizards, Steelers, etc.), but nothing players might be embarrassed to represent, at least.


With that being said, I don’t consider team names or mascots reflecting NA culture to be offensive (Indians, Braves, Seminoles, etc.), as I think the intent was to pay tribute to this group, and the strength and courage represented by them. A group would not pick a team name or other imagery from a thing or group they did not respect or wish to honor any more than early airborne troops would not give themselves Mohawk haircuts if they did not respect the warrior ethos reflected by the tribes that wore that hairstyle.


That all being said, I’m not NA, so what’s my opinion worth? I don’t know. Do only Indians get to comment on this topic? What if they differ? Who decides? I do have some Irish blood, and the use of Irish imagery in sports (Fightin’ Irish, Boston Celtics) doesn’t bother me in the least. I see no intent to offend, and I don’t have a problem with it. Is the use of Irish culture in sports different from the use of NA culture? I’m not sure.


The name “Redskins” is a special case – my thought was that while names like Braves and Indians were intended to honor and were not themselves offensive, Redskins was essentially an anachronism and should probably be changed. It just sounded offensive. The intent was fine but the name was wrong, similar to a team wishing to honor the Tuskegee Airmen (a noble concept by itself) by calling themselves the Flying Darkies (a very flawed execution of a noble idea). But then, pro-Redskins people pointed to a survey a few years ago which allegedly showed that the majority of Indians didn’t have a problem with the name (haven’t found a link for this study) and that the term was common (and not considered offensive) in Indian communities for years. Allegedly, one of the first recorded uses of the term was by an Indian chief, speaking of relations between the "redskins and the whiteskins". A Navajo reservation high school (Red Mesa High School in Arizona) even uses the name “Redskins”. So if a majority of Indians say they’re fine with Redskins, it’s OK, and the minority who oppose it are out of luck? I don’t know the ultimate answer to all this, but I’d be interested in hearing other thoughts.
 

DrPizza

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You won't see "the Smith City Pansies" or the "Gargonzola Goldenrods" or the "Richmond Roses." As you said, the names symbolize something in a positive manner. And, there are plenty of teams on reservations that use the exact same names.

I had a grad class on indigenous cultures. We discussed this issue. It appears that the majority of people making a stink about it are people who have never even lived on a reservation - that is, people most isolated from their own culture which they think they're trying to protect.

That's not to say though that parts of this aren't offensive. For example, the Atlanta Braves tomahawk chop IS offensive to NAs.
 

Murloc

Diamond Member
Jun 24, 2008
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I don't find that offensive, beloved patriot doesn't sound as offensive as the expletive for black people, although they do use it internally too.
 

jackstar7

Lifer
Jun 26, 2009
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The "Penguins" connote a lot of strength and dominance? There are cartoons about how they dance...

Wash needs to change it's team name.
 

JEDIYoda

Lifer
Jul 13, 2005
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I believe this is a non - issue! Most NA don`t give a hoot about a name.....

How can the name Atlanta Braves be offensive? or the Washington Redskins...c`mon people this is nothing compared to the real issues that take place in the United states -- poverty...homeless people....starving children.......
 

JEDIYoda

Lifer
Jul 13, 2005
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The Philadelphia Flyers.....that derrogatory to all pilots and birds that migrate yearly....
 

jackstar7

Lifer
Jun 26, 2009
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I believe this is a non - issue! Most NA don`t give a hoot about a name.....

How can the name Atlanta Braves be offensive? or the Washington Redskins...c`mon people this is nothing compared to the real issues that take place in the United states -- poverty...homeless people....starving children.......

A lot of problems form when a group isn't shown respect it is due.
 

Blackjack200

Lifer
May 28, 2007
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I think at least some of the offense taken is related to the fact that these people were basically wiped off the land by the same people (culturally) who are now using their imagry.
 

Charles Kozierok

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May 14, 2012
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It doesn't bother me, but I can perfectly see how it could bother others.

Do I think it's the most important issue in the world? No.

Do I think it would be a nice gesture of respect for a culture that Americans have systematically and deliberately destroyed over the last 300 years, and one that won't cause anyone any real harm? Yes.
 

Mursilis

Diamond Member
Mar 11, 2001
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I had a grad class on indigenous cultures. We discussed this issue. It appears that the majority of people making a stink about it are people who have never even lived on a reservation - that is, people most isolated from their own culture which they think they're trying to protect.

Interesting. I found this quote from a Wash. Post article on the issue a little bizarre:

(From Kevin Gover, director of the American Indian museum) “It’s stereotyping to use Indians that way. They’ll say, ‘Indians are brave, strong and steadfast.’ We want to say Indians are also smart and pious and generous. If you honor us only for those [other] qualities, then you’re basically saying that’s all we’ve got

Really?!? So if you call your spouse smart, you're also implying he/she is ugly, because, after all, you just said smart, and that's all you said! :rolleyes:
 

JEDIYoda

Lifer
Jul 13, 2005
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I agree with the respect issue...God knows that is one of the reasons for this experiment with the forum....

Yet with that said....

In American society all to often those people complaining or in some cases one person complaining just is iether a way to grab attention for your cause or just a way to draw attention to yourself.....

We did not have the issue of political correctness when some of us were growing up.....
 

Blackjack200

Lifer
May 28, 2007
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Interesting. I found this quote from a Wash. Post article on the issue a little bizarre:

Really?!? So if you call your spouse smart, you're also implying he/she is ugly, because, after all, you just said smart, and that's all you said! :rolleyes:

It seems pretty obvious to me that the issue here is that these are the only Indian attributes that the sports teams play up. Sure, it's because those are the attributes that are important to them, but that doesn't change the fact that sports fans will get a distorted view of Indian culture.

If I only ever tell my wife she's pretty, at some point she will start to assume that I don't think she's smart/sensative whatever.
 

fskimospy

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Mar 10, 2006
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I'm pretty sure that the people the name is describing are the only ones who get to weigh in on if it is offensive or not. It wouldn't make much sense to do it any other way.

It's the name of a sports team, if it pisses people off, change it. It is already so arbitrary anyway I see little value in clinging to it. That, and calling them The Skins would solve this problem anyway and would be using what is already a common nickname.
 

jackstar7

Lifer
Jun 26, 2009
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I'm pretty sure that the people the name is describing are the only ones who get to weigh in on if it is offensive or not. It wouldn't make much sense to do it any other way.

It's the name of a sports team, if it pisses people off, change it. It is already so arbitrary anyway I see little value in clinging to it. That, and calling them The Skins would solve this problem anyway and would be using what is already a common nickname.

I cannot wait for their rivalry against The Shirts to really capture the public's imagination.

Also... scared of the logo/mascot for a team called The Skins.

Crowd section A: It puts the lotion in the basket!
Crowd section B: Or else it gets the hose again!
 
Oct 16, 1999
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It's pretty damn inappropriate to use a people subjected to a genocide as a sports mascot regardless of the term used. The word itself might not be offensive but the concept is.
 

JTsyo

Lifer
Nov 18, 2007
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As far as I'm concerned, NA are Americans and their culture part of American culture. So it's fair game for sports teams. As far as I know beloved patriot is not a disparaging term at this time, if it ever was.
 

Charles Kozierok

Elite Member
May 14, 2012
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As far as I know beloved patriot is not a disparaging term at this time, if it ever was.

It's not "disparaging" in that it doesn't say anything negative about American Indians. But it is offensive to some people, because it suggests identifying people based solely on the color of their skins, and because it has been used disparagingly by some.

From a purely objective point of view, I think mascots based on physical characteristics of humans are just a bad idea in general. I highly doubt the "Alabama Rednecks" would go over too well (though some might like it, since there's been an attempt to "reclaim" that word in the same way as the "N" word and other slurs.)

How about the Minnesota Pasty-faces? The Seattle Wetbacks? The New York Big-Noses? The Mississippi Fatsos?

There are a lot of words out there that can be used for mascots. Why do we have to use one that pisses people off?
 
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blankslate

Diamond Member
Jun 16, 2008
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beloved patriot is not a disparaging term at this time, if it ever was.

It probably depends on who you ask

https://www.msu.edu/~dinkgra2/beloved patriot.html

The first, the third edition of the American Heritage Dictionary (1992), states that beloved patriot is “offensive slang” that is “used as a disparaging term for a Native American” (Spindel 204).

It probably was, back when the country was expanding westward, used as a derogatory reference.
 

JulesMaximus

No Lifer
Jul 3, 2003
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If people are offended by it then I think they should change it. It is a disparaging term used to describe a group of people for the color of their skin.
 

Fern

Elite Member
Sep 30, 2003
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I cannot wait for their rivalry against The Shirts to really capture the public's imagination.

Also... scared of the logo/mascot for a team called The Skins.

Crowd section A: It puts the lotion in the basket!
Crowd section B: Or else it gets the hose again!

LOL :biggrin:

Fern
 

Fern

Elite Member
Sep 30, 2003
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Ethnic mascots in sports: Offensive? And who gets to decide?

"Offensive?"

I think that's in the eye of the beholder. (And we have many 'PC-types' who jump to be offended at just about anything.)

"Who gets to decide?"

IMO, the group whose name is used as a mascot.

In same cases this is fairly easy and straight forward. Florida State University, for example, is the Seminoles. They are tribe that lives on a reservation in South FL/everglades. So, ask that tribe. Some time ago the NCAA stepped in was prepared to kick FSU out of college athletics if they didn't change the name. This greatly angered the Seminole tribe. The Seminole tribe and FSU have long and very close relationship. The Seminoles themselves make the costumes etc that the mascots wear, and the Seminole tribe is consulted about all things concerning the mascot to ensure historical accuracy. Heck, I'm pretty sure the tribal elders attend most games and sit in the luxury box with the university president, the relationship really is that close.

It was the Seminole tribe that blasted the NCAA and made them back off the university.


Now a name like redskins would seem to involve a whole lot more people over a much larger area, probably just about the entire USA. Native American communities stretch from FL to Alaska. I guess they should all be polled.

But the decision as to whether something is offensive should not be left up to a bunch of unaffected, probably white, PC types who have no business trying to speak on behalf of groups they don't even communicate with. What's more offensive, somebody using my name as a mascot or those who wish to decide for me whether or not I should be offended without even giving me the courtesy of asking me?

Fern
 

Mursilis

Diamond Member
Mar 11, 2001
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"Offensive?"

I think that's in the eye of the beholder. (And we have many 'PC-types' who jump to be offended at just about anything.)

"Who gets to decide?"

IMO, the group whose name is used as a mascot.

In same cases this is fairly easy and straight forward. Florida State University, for example, is the Seminoles. They are tribe that lives on a reservation in South FL/everglades. So, ask that tribe. Some time ago the NCAA stepped in was prepared to kick FSU out of college athletics if they didn't change the name. This greatly angered the Seminole tribe. The Seminole tribe and FSU have long and very close relationship. The Seminoles themselves make the costumes etc that the mascots wear, and the Seminole tribe is consulted about all things concerning the mascot to ensure historical accuracy. Heck, I'm pretty sure the tribal elders attend most games and sit in the luxury box with the university president, the relationship really is that close.

It was the Seminole tribe that blasted the NCAA and made them back off the university.


Now a name like redskins would seem to involve a whole lot more people over a much larger area, probably just about the entire USA. Native American communities stretch from FL to Alaska. I guess they should all be polled.

But the decision as to whether something is offensive should not be left up to a bunch of unaffected, probably white, PC types who have no business trying to speak on behalf of groups they don't even communicate with. What's more offensive, somebody using my name as a mascot or those who wish to decide for me whether or not I should be offended without even giving me the courtesy of asking me?

Fern

Funny that you brought up the FSU case. The NCAA also went after other schools which referenced NA culture, including the College of William and Mary, which was the Tribe. WM used two feathers in the logo, which the NCAA found objectionable. The student paper actually asked some of the few Indians remaining in Virginia (where WM is located), and they weren't the slightest bit offended by the use of feathers in the school's logo. But then, WM wasn't powerful like FSU, and the NCAA got its way - the feather was removed.