A sports fan is walking down the street repping their favorite sports team’s swag. They wear it proudly: the hat, maybe even an elaborate, limited-edition, team jersey. They do this because that team is important to them.
But what if their team is actually projecting negative stereotypes? Do people realize this? Do they turn their heads and ignore the blatant racial slurs and associated toxicity? Why are caricatured cartoons of Native people still used as mascots?
The Root of the Problem
There may be a plethora of reasons as to why a team resonates with a person. The players, the stadium, the nostalgia, and the atmosphere are some of these reasons. However, preferences aside, something more is at stake here.
What if I told you none of that team pride matters when the teams’ names themselves are oppressive? What’s more important: a selfish gimmicky branding attempt, or showing respect to those from other ethnic backgrounds?
Look at the following three hats and make a quick connection among them in your head:
That’s right, they are all racist and offensive! However, the first two are fictitious, and the last one is a ‘former’ logo for the Cleveland Indians MLB team. While the team claims to have changed their official logo to a simple ‘C,’ this offensive image of a red-skinned ‘Indian’ mascot oppresses Native people-plain and simple.
Downright offensive team names and the all-too-frequent distasteful images behind them poke fun at important cultural elements of indigenous people and those of varying ethnic backgrounds.
The fact of the matter is that many sports teams have been bluntly racist through their choice of mascots and the associated images and phrases for a great deal of time. Check out the following timelines courtesy of USA Today that explore the history behind these questionable logos:
Fans Acting Like Huge Idiots
Let’s take a moment to reflect on something: the NFL team that represents our nation’s capitol is called the Washington Redskins. Their logo is a profile view of an Native American, complete with a feathery headdress and red colored skin. While use of this logo is offensive for a multitude of reasons, the ways that fans react and support these stereotypical events is equally contributing to the negative qualities that are present.
Take a look at these disheartening photos of baseball fans, shamelessly displaying racist behavior.
A confused fan attempting to explain how he is ‘honoring heritage’ by supporting racist team mascots, painting his face, and wearing a makeshift headdress.
The same sports fan is fulfilling a cartoonish prophecy from a comic created a decade prior.
Current Sports Teams With Offensive Names
When looking into the dense world of professional sports, there is an overwhelming amount of racially charged issues. A dense Wikipedia list spells it all out:
-There are currently stereotyped teams in the following professional sports: American football, association football (soccer), Australian football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey.
-Similar team names and mascots exist in the same minor league sports, as well as: lacrosse, Canadian football, cricket, motorcycle racing, and rugby.
-The most recognizable examples of these types of poor choices are displayed by the following mainstream teams: Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs.
Beyond all of this, there is also a serious lack of diversity within college level sports in America. Caucasians make up the vast majority of the athletes demographic. While Native Americans are constantly being made the mascot, they represent less than half of a percent of college athletes.
Questionable judgement calls are everywhere in public schools ranging from grade school mascots to high school team choices. United States high schools however remain substantially guilty, with over 100 teams calling themselves “Braves”, 74 “Warriors”, over 50 “Redskins”, and over 400 teams currently calling themselves “Indians”.
There are literally thousands of examples of this, even in my small city of Boise–our main high school’s mascot is the Boise Braves, complete with Native American imagery.
One thing is certain: change needs to happen!
Fortunately, adidas has a plan to help promote the changing of offensive high school teams and mascots. In a recent press release they stated:
“Adidas today announced it will lead a nationwide voluntary initiative for high schools who want to change mascot names and identities. adidas will offer its design resources to any high school in America that wants to change their logo or mascot from potentially harmful Native American imagery or symbolism. Additionally, the company will provide financial assistance to schools who want to change their identity to ensure the transition is not cost prohibitive.”
But what can we do to help change these stereotyping types of sports imagery?
Well, we can certainly start by signing petitions that aim to change these offensive sports teams. We can share articles like this one and other similar pieces on social sites. We can also help by not supporting or purchasing memorabilia of these degrading teams.
And if we see a person, especially someone we know well, wearing this type of merchandise, it’s important to question them and address the situation respectfully.
Additionally, self-educate on these issues by following sites like Not Your Mascots and feel free to list off any additional relevant resources you know if in the comments section for this article.