There’s big things going on in the sports landscape when it comes to team logos, copyright issues, etc. On June 18th, 2014, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revoked the trademark of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, after ruling in a case brought by five Native Americans who say the name disparages them. This decision has potentially has large ramifications, but it will NOT legally require the team to change its name. Naturally, the Redskins will be appealing the decision.
Living in Cleveland I’ve seen my fair share of this sort of thing. In case you don’t know for years the Indians have been using Chief Wahoo as their mascot. He’s gone through several variations ranging slightly to very racist. The current incarnation (in my opinion) isn’t offensive at all and is a great icon for Cleveland. I’m careful to point out that this is my opinion because I am clearly NOT the demographic that would be offended. I’m a white male of Polish nationality.
But it got me to thinking… are these things really offensive? I can remember when I was in college and Miami of Ohio changed their mascot from the Redskins to the Red Hawks. I thought it was silly at the time. There’s a SLEW of these out there: Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Florida State Seminoles, Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Blackhawks… I could go on and on. Here’s a more complete list from Wikipedia.
So anyhow… I got to thinking so I reached out to a friend of mind from KillTheCan.org. He works for the Native American Rights Fund so I figured he’d have a good understanding of the issue from within the Native American community, somehting I’m clearly not privy to. Here’s an excerpt from our discussion (which he agreed to me posting):
“Hey man / curious. What’s the consensus within the Native American community re: this whole Reskins issue? Is that term offensive? Legit asking cause I’m ignorant.”
“Thanks for asking – shows concern. Consensus is that it is offensive. there are always people the press finds to say that it doesn’t bother them, but generally it’s offensive because it’s abusive & belittling.
It comes from a time when a bounty was offered for killing Indians – like a scalp or a skin – because they were like threatening animals. Like wolves or somethign.
There was even a Bible, in a collection at a school in Denver, that was covered in human skin fro ma native. Friggina ghastly right? It was from that time.”
“Gotcha. Makes sense. So, while “Redskins” is bad, fair to assume “Indians” is viewed in a similar light? Though I’d guess something like FSU “Seminoles” would be OK since it’s a legit tribe name? Again… asking out of pure ignorance.”
“It gets to be shades of grey fast. Seminoles seem to be OK with the Seminole tribe down there. Fighting Sioux – ND – not so cool because that name is derogatory in origin and the tribe has asked the name be changed.
Indians – doesn’t seem so bad. Except there they use really ugly stereotype charictures as mascots and stupid things like tomahawk chops, etc. as “rituals” that are actually denegrating as well. I went to Stanford and they changed from Indians in the 70’s but still old alumni tried to revive one of the most hideous mascot versions and stupid skits, etc. by the cheerleaders. Old habits die hard!
You don’t need to keep apologizing for asking. I really do appreciate people trying to understand.”
He also passed along the following image. Stuff like this is why the term “redskin” is offensive. Knowing a little more about this history, I can see where they’re coming from.
If you know me more than a little bit, you know that I’m a huge fan of my beloved Cleveland Indians and their mascot Chief Wahoo. Up until this conversation I always thought folks up in arms over these sorts of issues were just being hyper sensitive and sort of silly. Turns out that may not be the case…
Some more light reading for you:
- One Clever T-Shirt Takes a Familiar Racist Logo and Turns the Tables on White People
(Where I got the Caucasian image above from)
- Native American group planning $9 billion lawsuit against the Indians
- Washington Redskins’ Trademark Registrations Cancelled
A Facebook friend of mine Dave (who’s incidentally one of the smartest guys I know and who always seems to do his homework) offered the following links as “dissenting opinions”.
- The Washington Redskins and a Manufactured Fight Over Honor and Racism
- The Real History of the Word Redskin. It’s Not What You Think.
- Three Virginia Indian tribes not offended by Redskins
I spose it’s like every situation. There will be some that are upset and offended and some that aren’t. Who’s the say what’s offensive?
So what do you think? With teams like the Washington Redskins and mascots like Chief Wahooo be a thing of the past?