Photo courtesy of Keith Allison / Flickr

The NFL's Problematic Upholding of Native American Mascots

For many schools, sports mascots are the ultimate symbols of team pride, spirit, and school culture. Unfortunately, across the U.S., a number of institutions continue to employ potentially offensive caricatures, particularly ones depicting Native Americans, in order to represent their teams.

Although it may seem largely harmless, these phony visuals often reduce the importance of Native Americans in history and in greater society to goofy imitations. This in turn promotes negative stereotypes that can prove detrimental to young students, who are often in a stage of life that involves coming to grips with one's own identity.

In fact, based on a culmination of social science studies, the American Psychological Association released a resolution outlining the direct dangers of the widespread use of Native American mascots and asking for their retirement.

One of the cited risks from the resolution states that the symbols send a message that it is acceptable for any and all students to engage in culturally insensitive behavior. As a result, appropriated mascots can create an inhospitable learning environment for all students, not just those of Native American descent or background. Furthermore, ignoring the emotions of those offended by the mascots perpetuates the majority’s ability to abuse their inherent privilege, as those who held the power to implement the disrespectful symbols in the first place were not of Native American origin.

One of the most popular and controversial mascots in the country is the "redskins." In the years following the American Psychological Association’s resolution, many schools and athletic programs complied with these formal requests and abandoned the racially charged redskins mascot.

In states with prevalent Native American populations, laws have been passed to eliminate the phrase entirely from sports and school branding, as evident in California’s Racial Mascots Act. This widespread movement infiltrated universities along with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). All colleges within the NCAA were required to change any Native American terminology or imagery unless the university could obtain official support from individual tribes.

Despite this heavily supported and incredibly powerful movement to right the Native Americans who were wronged by disrespectful and degrading appropriation of their culture, a number of professional teams have dismissed these efforts altogether. The Washington Redskins, specifically, have been explicitly averse to acknowledging the disparaging impact of their profane team name.

In an interview with USA Today, Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, declared, “We'll never change the name… it's that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.”

In addition to the Washington Redskins’ blatant negligence of the consequences of using a racial slur as a team name, the organization's decision to play on Indigenous People’s Day only further demonstrates their disregard for the Native American experience.

Indigenous People’s Day began as a an attempt to reclaim Columbus Day. Rather than celebrating the European explorer who is largely esteemed for launching the first European explorations of the Americas, the holiday is geared towards honoring the Native Americans who Columbus enslaved and brutally tortured in the process of colonization.

By choosing to play on this fragile day of commemoration, the Washington Redskins showcased their team name without any consideration of their potential to reclaim an insulting slur. Instead, they utilized their athletic platform to further emphasize a phrase connotative of malicious mockery and hostility against Native Americans—a movement that has permanently tainted our nation's history.

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, a day rooted in expressions of gratitude for the kindness and generosity shown by so many Native Americans, I can only hope that teams such as the Washington Redskins acknowledge the massive detriment their mascots pose and opt to advocate for (rather than silence) Native Americans.

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