Mascot controversy touches on sensitive racial issues

Nation chimes in as report on racism in sports mascots is released

JP O'Hagan, Staff Reporter

In the past few weeks there has been outcry over the “Redskins” not being politically correct. While the Washington Redskins moniker has received the most critique, the local Indians may also tread the line of offense.

The name of Redskins has been used by the Washington D.C. NFL team for over 70 years. Yet the name and mascot are now criticized for being racist and inappropriate on the national stage. With the media circus that has followed the debate, everyone has chimed in with an opinion. Everyone from Bob Costas (an NBC sports reporter known from his work as an Olympics commentator) to President Barack Obama has spoken out about the name.

The reason for outcry comes from the realization of many that the name Redskins can be perceived as a racial slur that originated in the bounty paid for Native body parts and human flesh. The NFL has said it will meet with an Indian tribe pushing for the Redskins to drop the name. However, it will be left up to the owner to decide if the mascot will be changed.

Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder argues that the name is meant to honor a people central to the history of this nation. However, Snyder is facing an ever-growing opposition. Many Americans have never thought twice about the name. Surveys indicate that even among the 5.2 million Native Americans in this country, whose culture and beliefs are the basis of the debate, many have not taken much offense. However, the opinion is changing and the change is rapid.

Costas’ halftime talk during primetime Sunday Night Football last Sunday on the subject pointed out that when done correctly and tastefully, a name based on Native American culture can be accepted and be honored. Many teams use nicknames that come from Native American culture. The Atlanta Braves, Golden State Warriors, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Blackhawks, Florida State Seminoles and Illinois Fighting Illini are just a few of teams at both the professional and collegiate levels that use monikers that come from Native American culture. However, it is the Redskins name that has seen the most ridicule and change could be eminent.

Yet what about our Cleveland Indians? Could this extremely vocal switch in public opinion lead to local changes? The Indians have also come into scrutiny over the past few weeks. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) put out a poster in 2001 to speak out against the Indian’s name and recently released a report on the issue. It is a simple white background with three baseball hats. The first two are of fictional teams, the “New York Jews” and the “San Francisco Chinamen.” The two hats bear fictional logos of characterized stereotypical racists image of a Jewish man and Chinese man. The third hat is the hat of the Cleveland Indians, attempting to provoke a correlation between the Indians logo and racial stereotyping. The poster reads “No race, creed or religion should endure the ridicule faced by the Native Americans today. Please help us put an end to this mockery and racism by visiting”

The NCAI has spent years trying to get offensive sports team names and logos like the the NCAI in their recent poster campaign. The belief is that the Indians “Chief Wahoo“ logo is a stereotype and not a respectful image of Native Americans and that the logo perpetuates stereotypical views of Indian nations and peoples.

This is a problem that the Cleveland community will have to discuss. While not perceived as a slur, many can argue that the logo is inappropriate. Many devoted fans will counterargue that the name is classic, iconic and is not meant to be disrespectful. The Indians’ namesake has been a part of the team’s history since 1914 and the logo was created in 1947. The team has kept these as a part of its identity since that time and is proud of the long and successful history of the franchise.

However, the team faced arguments against the name before, with protesters arrested at rallies against the use of the Indians name and logo in both 1997 and 1998.

While not as controversial as the Redskins name, should more scrutiny come upon the Indians? Could the team change its name that it has used for nearly 100 years? Should the Indians’ front office consider a rebranding? Or would serious controversy be political correctness run amok?

These arguments will be presented in the coming saga of controversy and critique that faces numerous teams heading forward. For now, the beloved Indians will remain, but each person must decide for his or herself if change should be made in the future.