A new report by the National Congress of American Indians issues a new report detailing the ways in which Native citizens are harmed by racist sports team names and mascots.
Think right now of the worst racial slurs you can imagine. Ones that make your skin crawl, that make you angry, that you would never, ever say.
Then wonder, what if your local sports team used one of those racial slur for its name?
Welcome to the Washington Redsk*ns.
A press release on NCAI.org explains the history of their efforts to get the Redsk*ns to change their name. A history featuring an owner whose racism wasn’t limited to Native people:
“The report NCAI has released today provides the history of an overwhelming movement to end the era of harmful “Indian” mascots – including the fact that Native peoples have fought these mascots since 1963 and no professional sports team has established a new ‘Indian’ mascot since 1964.
There is one thing that we can agree with the Washington football team about – the name ‘Redsk*ns’ is a reflection of the team’s legacy and history. Unfortunately, the team’s legacy and history is an ugly one, rooted in racism and discrimination, including the origins of the team’s name. It is becoming more and more obvious that the team’s legacy on racial equality is to remain on the wrong side of history for as long as possible.
The team’s original owner, George Preston Marshall, named the team the ‘Redsk*ns’ in 1932, just months before he led a 13-year league wide ban on African American players in the NFL. Nearly 30 years after the race-based name was chosen, Marshall was forced by the league to hire the team’s first black player in 1962. He was the last NFL owner to do so.
Earlier this week when we shared a poster created in the 1990s by the National Council of American Indians. If you haven’t seen it, the poster shows Wahoo, mascot of the Cleveland Indians, with a dopey grin and red skin next to racist depictions of a Jewish person and an Asian person. The point? To remind us that racism is racism, no matter which ethnic or racial minority we’re talking about.
And yet there are always those people who refuse to listen to Native citizens about the harm being caused by these names and images. Somehow, for some reason, they believe that there’s no harm in calling a team the Redski*ins or using offensive iconography. To that, the NCAI has an answer in their report:
Empirical evidence in a 2004 study by Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, a preeminent cultural and social psychology scholar and an enrolled member of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington state, showed that the use of American Indian-based names, mascots, and logos in sports have a negative psychological effect on Native peoples and positive psychological consequences for European Americans.1 Additionally, Fryberg has concluded that these mascots have negative effects on race relations in the United States.
When exposed to these images, the self-esteem of Native youth is harmfully impacted, their self-confidence erodes, and their sense of identity is severely damaged. Specifically, these stereotypes affect how Native youth view the world and their place in society, while also affecting how society views Native peoples. This creates an inaccurate portrayal of Native peoples and their contributions to society. Creating positive images and role models is essential in helping Native youth more fully and fairly establish themselves in today’s society.
In The New York Times on Thursday, Ken Belson brings the issue down to one of the underlying questions:
[H]ow many people must be offended by a team’s name for a change to be warranted? The Redskins and the National Football League cite polling in which most respondents said they were not offended by the name, while those lobbying the team to drop its name dispute the accuracy of that data and say that no matter, the word is widely regarded as a slur.
It’s time we all listen to the NCAI and raise our voices, along with the President of the USA, and at the very least ask the owners of the Washington team to reconsider. There are so many options that can instill a sense of pride in your team, and in all your fans. Without harming anybody.
Author’s note: Following the lead of the NCAI, I’ve chosen to use an asterisk in the name of the Washington team in order to show respect for the fact that that name is, in fact, a racial slur.
Photo: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais