Need Further Proof That We Shouldn’t Use Native Names and Images in Sports? Here It Is.

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Joanna Schroeder explains the horrible and inevitable outcome of using Native images and names as mainstream team mascots, as displayed by an Alabama high school last weekend.

Want to start an argument at a party? Ask people what they think about changing the names of pro sports teams like the Cleveland Indians or the Washington Redsk*ns.

Last month I wrote about a poster from the National Congress of American Indians that showed the racist absurdity of naming a sports team after an ethnic or racial group. It showed the Cleveland Indians hat next to hats that used similarly offensive caricatures of Asian Americans and Jewish people.

That post went massively viral. It turns out that the poster is more than a dozen years old, but since so much attention has been paid to the Washington Redsk*ns name of late (including a statement by President Obama saying that if he were the owner he would think about changing the name), the theme is current and close to many people’s hearts.

Despite massive support (100,000+ reads within a few days), I received threatening, insulting, racist and downright ridiculous comments and emails. In at least 100 of them (none of which were allowed to appear on our site), I was called the C-word, the B-word, a moron, an uppity feminist cow, and told to “grab a pan and get back in the kitchen” where I apparently belong. I laughed at the lack of originality in every single one. At the same time that I was laughing at the idiots who are dumb enough to think racism and sexism is funny or clever, I was humbled in realizing that I would never fully understand how much worse these comments and emails would have been had I been a person of color. Or how much more it all hurts if this is your history.



One outcome of using Native images and names in mainstream sports that I didn’t cover last month is the seemingly unavoidable use of offensive, insensitive and racist displays of “team pride” from fans of the opposing team.

Recently, Bill Murray (whom I loved so much up until this point) tackled Lee Corso, who was dressed up as a real life Chief Osceola (video and great commentary here, at Newsy) in some sort of anti-FSU Seminoles display of sporting pride. As odd as that was, racist depictions of Native people being speared through the head or even burned are fairly common. We have chosen not to show those images here, due to the immense amount of hurt they cause people, but one quick Google search will turn them up.

One shining example of this horrific stupidity and insensitivity happened this past weekend in Pinson Valley, Alabama at McAdory High School — their opponents were called The Indians.

This is the sign that McAdory High School allowed to be displayed* at the game:

Photo courtesy of blogger

Photo courtesy of blogger – which has since been removed.

Now, it’s not fully these kids’ fault that they think this is acceptable. Their whole lives they’ve been seeing racist images in sports. They’ve probably only heard about the Trail of Tears in passing. Perhaps a single page of their history book is dedicated to the ethnic cleansing that happened on the land we now call home. They’ve also most likely been fed lie after lie about the “heroism” of Christopher Columbus every year since kindergarten.

The shame here should be on the school’s administration and these kids’ parents for allowing racism like this to be displayed so proudly, and for allowing their kids to be so ignorant.

Do these people not realize that this is the history of a living people who are still hurting from the atrocities committed against them less than two hundred years ago?

From Wikipedia:

The Trail of Tears is a name given to the ethnic cleansing and forced relocation of Native American nations from southeastern parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The removal included many members of the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, among others in the United States, from their homelands to Indian Territory in eastern sections of the present-day state of Oklahoma. The phrase originated from a description of the removal of the Choctaw Nation in 1831.[1]

Many Native Americans suffered from exposure, disease and starvation on the route to their destinations. Many died, including 2,000-6,000 of 16,542 relocated Cherokee.

Let’s not just focus upon the deaths (and that number is only from one of the many tribes involved, therefore the death toll is grossly under-represented). Let’s also focus on the fact that the government walked into people’s homes and took them away. In today’s era of “Stand Your Ground” where an unarmed child is shot legally for merely walking in the general vicinity of somebody’s home, an era when our home is our castle and we won’t let anyone take that away from us, we need to imagine tens of thousands of families being forced from their homes—men, women, babies, the elderly and the infirm—at gunpoint, and forced to walk to new land… legally.

Thing is, Americans do know how it feels to lose thousands upon thousands of people due to hate, don’t we? We know how it feels to be changed forever by the heartless massacre of thousands of our own.

Now, stop for a moment and consider a sign at an international sports event that read, “Hey Americans, get ready to leave in flames, just like on 9/11.”

Let that sink in.

What could be worse? What could hurt worse than using that in a friendly rivalry? I can’t think of much. And the entire world (including myself) would be outraged. 

That, ladies and gentlemen, is essentially what you are saying to Native people when you abuse the memory of the horrors endured by their ancestors.

It hurts to really think about it, doesn’t it? It also hurts to think about The Holocaust, The Middle Passage, The Crusades, The Congo under Belgian occupation, slavery, and all other genocides around the world. But if we don’t think about these things, if we don’t talk about The Trail of Tears, if we don’t purposefully teach our kids about the genocide that happened on American soil so very recently, then racism like what happened this weekend at McAdory will happen over and over again.

The horror of the genocide committed against the indigenous and First Nations people of North America is not a joke. The images of Native people do not belong to us, as white folks, and it is our job to make this stop.

It’s time to speak up against the use of Native images, names and iconography in mainstream sports. This has to end.



For more, read Poster Puts the Racist Iconography of the Cleveland Indians Into Embarrassing Context

and NCAI’s report on Racist Sports Teams Reminds Us What Little Progress We’ve Made


*While it is not expressly clear that administrators approved this sign, it can be assumed that like most schools, all posters must be pre-approved by the principal’s office before being displayed.

About Joanna Schroeder

Joanna Schroeder is a feminist writer and editor with a special focus in issues facing raising boys and gender in the media. Her work has appeared on Redbook, Yahoo!, xoJane,,, and more. She and her husband are outdoor sports enthusiasts raising very active sons. She is currently co-editing a book of essays for boys and young men with author and advocate Jeff Perera. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.


  1. Indian Mascots are in no way honoring any native, living or not, just blatant racism that needs to end. If we fight it on all fronts we will win, sign my petition for name change of the Pinson Valley Indians, it will be printed and delivered to the Board of Education, one battle at a time, we are not mascots! <>

  2. wellokaythen says:

    I think I’ll try to revise the wikipedia entry about the Trail of Tears, to make it even more inclusive. The thousands of people forced to move westward included hundreds of African American slaves “owned” by Native American families, the vast majority owned by the Cherokee. Some of the “property” that the Cherokee were forced to leave behind were slaves who took the opportunity to escape from their native overseers. Other slaves were not so fortunate and were forced by their native masters to go on the overland journey with them. I’m guessing their mortality rate was even higher than that of their masters. (Many Cherokee in Oklahoma were dedicated enough to preserve slavery that they fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War.)

    The Cherokee in Georgia had every right to stay where they were. They made a very convincing, entirely valid protest that went all the way to the Supreme Court. One of their less respectable and more embarrassing protests was that it was unfair to send them to Oklahoma to live among the “savages” who were living there, that it was cruel to send civilized people to live in a place with such cruel inhabitants.

  3. Kirsten (in MT) says:

    Again, context counts. I would like to know why white Joanna Schroeder gets to tell schools whose constituents are entirely or primarily Native American that they should not use Native names or imagery.

    Schools like the St. Labre schools in Montana, primarily serving students from the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Tribes:

    Schools like Browning High School, serving students from the Blackfeet Nation, whose basketball team (the Browning Indians) proudly ran out onto the floor of one of their home games, wearing new headdress:

    Schools like the Lodge Grass Public Schools, serving a Montana community that is greater than 85% Native American:

    I’d like to see what response you’d get if you wrote them letters explaining that they should not be incorporating names and images from their own communities and traditions into their sports teams.

    • Kirsten (in MT) says:

      I don’t know why my other comment doesn’t seem to have been posted, but here it is again as best I remember it.

      Doesn’t it strike you as a little bit racist, Joanna, for a white woman to be telling Native Americans that they should not use their own language and imagery as they see fit? Doesn’t it seem racist to say that because white people will inevitably do some stupid things, NATIVE AMERICANS should eschew their OWN culture to avoid white people causing problems?

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        Kristen, did you actually read the article?

        Not for a single second did I direct one word at Native people.

        The people I’m directing this toward are white people. Read the last paragraph. I am a white person, and I’m talking to white people. And I’m basing every argument I’m making up on the direction and tone of the National Congress of American Indians’ press releases and communications regarding non-Native teams using Native names and iconography.

        Next time you accuse me of racism, Kristen, you better make sure you have your facts straight. And read the whole article.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Read my other comment. There is a single word in that article that should have tipped you off: MAINSTREAM.

      The other words you could have read, had you cared to actually comment on what’s happening in this article: “White people”. It’s there. Read it again. If you’re having problems with reading the content that is actually on the page, feel free to use the command+F feature on your keyboard and search the word “white”

  4. wellokaythen says:

    Wow. Just….wow.

    I’m one of those people who tends to think there’s too much hair-trigger sensitivity about racism out there sometimes, but that sign is just way over the line. The line may be blurry sometimes, but some things are just on the other side of the blur.

    Realistically, though, when it comes to inspiring people to defeat human mascots, it’s really a question of how recent the events in question and how many of that group are left. As Johnny Carson used to say when the crowd booed his jokes about the Lincoln assassination: “Too soon?”

    It’s much better when the genocide is total, a long time ago, and at least somewhat mythical.

    We’re on much better ground calling on our team to defeat some team named “the Trojans,” who don’t exist anymore and who were wiped out about 3000 years ago. I’d be really impressed with our education system, and no one would be offended, if an upcoming game against “the Spartans” made a reference to the battle of Thermopylae. Any Spartans out there offended by the reference?

    • wellokaythen says:

      P.S. The Cherokee “Trail of Tears” actually refers to two different “removal” campaigns. It already had a “Round 2” anyway, so “Trail of Tears Round 2” is already nonsensical.

  5. Sorry for the CSPAN typo. But to further my question, as you know, I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and it’s the reason why I’m so outspoken on the cause. That’s why I’m so perplexed as to why there’s not more outrage by the Native-American community on this…I think that’s why most other Americans pay little to no attention to it, because those most closely linked don’t “appear” to care. I’m curious to know your thoughts on this point.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      There’s TONS of outrage from the Native American Indian community on this. But who is listening. That poster in the post is from more than 12 years ago. There is a LOT of speaking out on this, but it’s just not covered by the media. Google it, you’ll see sooooooo much info.

  6. I hear you Joanna. I have a question. Why do we hear so little from the Native-American community on this issue. Yes, I’ve seen the rare apperance on CPAN by a minor few speaking up, but I would’ve thought that this community would speak much louder, and get more of the results they want if they did. On that same CSPAN viewing, they even brought up a Native-American high school team whose own mascot was an “Indian”. I simply don’t get it. Why so little voice for this issue by those most directly affected?

    • @David First and foremost,Indians have been complaining about their treatment for hundreds of years.While the media should take some responsibility for the general ignorance of the public on concerns Indians may have about how they have been treated,blaming the media exclusively is a distraction.This knowledge is easily accessed and there is no plausible reason why every American shouldn’t be competent in knowing their own history.

    • BobbyCanuck says:

      Maybe because Native Indians do not care? Maybe because they have been beaten down for so many years, the fight has been taken out of them. Maybe they do not find it as offensive as white people think.

      Maybe it is white people in a knot over this, because the have a bad case of ‘white man guilt’

      Perhaps a slow news day. bored media manufacturing news.

      There are so many names associated with Native Indians in America sport teams…some I like (Braves, Blackhawks) some need to ge gotten rid of yesterday (Indians)

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        Bobby, feel free to read any of the links in the article regarding the NCAI’s (National Congress of American Indians) stance on Native images and iconography in sports. It’s very, very clear. Also feel free to check out the Native Appropriations blog and many, many other resources

  7. Great job Joanna! It’s sad when people want to hold on to something despite the fact that it is painful for another group.

  8. I attended grad school in Washington DC many many years ago. I love the town. I am a die hard Skins fan.

    But, the time has indeed arrived. The name must be changed.

  9. I will try this again.It would seem logical, if we really were concerned about the plight of American Indians,that we should give them their land back that we stole and make good on the hundreds of treaties we violated.We need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission like South Africa,which was headed by Bishop Tutu. And we should issue an apology on the Senate floor and the UN.

    • That’s what’s so great about this crusade. We’re NOT really concerned, but agitating for the name change makes us feel better about our non-concern.

      It’s a win-win situation.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        I’m taking my concern from the NCAI. That’s where I take my lead in trying to be an ally.

        Extrapolating it out to “Well, we aren’t giving the land back, therefore why do anything?” is just an excuse to stop listening to people.

      • @ Paul It is funny how helping Indians,when there are real risks involved like people giving up something tangible like property rights, all of a sudden you can’t get a conversation about that.But when it is safe to help and the personal risks are low armchair activists rise to the task.Wounded knee,the last recent armed conflict between Indians and America,was fought over stolen land.I would hazard to guess if the NCAL thought getting their land returned plus compensation for the land that was stolen and exploited was possible they would take that over having names of sports teams changed.This happens to be one of safe,coffee table, protests issues so popular in modern culture.

  10. JJ Vincent says:

    Oh, Alabama. Why must you continue to make the news for such things as this? Although I guarantee there are plenty of people here in North Alabama that think that the Trail of Tears is just an huge annual bike ride/rally and have no CLUE of the origins of the name or who/what the ride honors.

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