Representation In Sports
The image of a war bonnet and war paint wearing Indian is one that has been created and perpetuated by Hollywood, and has unfortunately had influence on the sports industry. This image only bears minimal resemblance to traditional regalia of Plains tribes. As a result, it furthers the stereotype that Indigenous peoples are one monolithic culture, when in reality there are 500+ distinct tribes with their own cultures. This images also places Indigenous peoples in the historic past, as something that cannot exist in modern society. Unfortunately, this racist act has persisted to some extent despite protests from Indigenous groups. Today, there are still over 1,000 team mascots and names waiting to be changed.
There are hundreds of blatantly racist and unacceptable sports teams appropriating Indigenous peoples that deserve criticism, but one of the most vulgar and intolerant examples is NFL’s Washington Redsk*ns. The term “redsk*n” comes from the time when the colonial and state governments and companies paid white people to kill Native Americans and used their scalps or even genitalia (to prove their sex), aka “red skins,” as proof of their “Indian kill”. Owners and fans of the NFL team have come to the defense of the name, saying that it “honors Indians,” “keeping to tradition,” and “you’re being too sensitive,” in reaction to Indigenous activists calling for the end of Indigenous mascots. The fans and the NFL are clearly emotionally and financially invested in the name and don’t want to take extra time and money to change it. However, when violence systematically targets a group of people through genocide, slavery, or colonization, the resulting trauma lasts through generations. The r-word and the n-word are both equivalently racial slurs with racist histories.
Watch this powerful video made by the National Congress of American Indians protesting the boycott of the name: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mR-tbOxlhvE
Why It’s A Problem
These practices maintain the power relationship between the dominant culture and the Indigenous culture. It makes historical oppression towards this group be viewed as less significant and important; a form of cultural imperialism. When indigenous peoples are reduced to mascots and caricatures, it dismisses them as subhuman. It places Indigenous peoples in the past tense as if it’s acceptable to appropriate their names and their nations. Most importantly, this influences new generations of sports fans into following this racist ideology.
If Racist Mascots And Team Names Exist In Your Area
- Get more knowledge on the issue and build a support base. It’s important to learn relevant background information before attempting to move forward. This is because you must be prepared to explain why Indigenous mascots are racist and should be changed. To get more people involved, explain to anyone who will listen what you are planning to do, and how they can help you. This is very important, as having a support base is vital for any civic action.
- Begin a letter writing campaign by writing to influential people in your town such as a school athletic director, school principal, school committee members, or town mayor. To increase the effect of this, get letters of support from people and organizations of influence that support your position.
- Go to public meetings and voice your concerns. Bringing your plan before local officials is a central step in realizing your goal.
- Contact local newspapers, radio and TV stations and speak out against the use of Indigenous appropriations and raise the issue on multiple media outlets. This will help your message reach a wider audience and help the conversation get started.
- Search for allies such as Indigenous advocacy groups and tribes that can help you build a coalition to fight with.
- Start a petition in paper or online to show thhat there are many people on your side.
- Spread the word online using various social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This will be helpful to start a conversation.
“When you take a race of people and you name a football team after the colour of their skin, when you take what are to us are religious artifacts like pipes and eagle feathers which are given to us in a sacred way (we paint our faces in a sacred way) then you’re defying our religion as well as our colour and our race. I think you need to be sensitive to the fact that we have a very old and very deep spirituality and we hate to see that defiled also.” – Tim Giago, Oglala Lakota journalist and publisher