By Gary Norris Gray, Staff Reporter
Ms. Harjo one of the plaintiffs in the trademark case makes it clear.
“The name brings up a painful history for Native Americans and keeps that history alive by characterizing them by skin color, which carries a deeper societal implication, If it’s permissible to call us bad names in public, it’s permissible to do bad things to our children,”.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) launched a massive campaign to inform America and Americans about the use and misuse of American Indian names. This group was formed to address the stereotypes in print media, in electronic media, and this included the sports world as well.
This group wanted to combat the racist statements some college and professional teams make with their Native American team logos, mascots, and nicknames.
To date, there are now less than 200 Junior high, high school, college, and professional teams using logos, nicknames, and mascots of First Nation/Native Americans. This figure has dropped from the staggering 3,000 in the mid 1950′s and 60′s.
In 2001, the United States Commission on Civil Rights issued its second statement on the use of Native American Images and Nicknames as Sports Symbols. The Commission stated that lower level schools and programs willingly gave up their Native American symbols and switched very quickly to make peace with the Native American community.
In 2014 NCAI will return to court to assist a Navajo, Suzan Shown Harjo, living in Northern Virginia and Amanda Blackhorse from Arizona in fighting to repeal the name.
First Nation/American Indians are now challenging the team’s right to gain profit from the trademark.
The resistance to change is stronger among professional teams.
Professional teams still refuse to change their names and logos. The Washington Football Club and The Kansas City Chiefs (football), The Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, (baseball), the Chicago Blackhawks (hockey) and the Golden State Warriors (basketball) are classic examples of this resistance.
The Oakland based Golden State Warriors have drifted away from any references to its Native American past to become the first professional team to do so. Winning four championships also can defuse the issue.
The Atlanta Braves became the second professional team to remove some of the images of Native American/First Nation from their uniform in 2011.
The Chicago Blackhawks organization still claims that the name comes from the military unit in World War I after a Native American of the Sauk Nation. It was spelled Black Hawks until 1986. The Hawks do not draw the same ire of Native Americans because the mascot stands for a nation and an individual. Winning three championships in 20 years also helps.
Washington cited finances as the problem for not changing their name but that can be very hard to believe after the NBA Washington Bullets basketball team changed their name to the Washington Wizards in 1995-96.
The team changed their name after an era of a high murder rate in the District of Columbia claiming many young African American lives by gunfire. So Washington’s issue of money is null and void with the Wizards claim to national fame.
Let’s backtrack to the very beginning of this debate. The battle began at Dartmouth College, now Dartmouth University. Their name at the time (Indians) was changed to “THE BIG GREEN” in 1968-1969, after a long protracted campus demonstration by Native Americans, Dartmouth students, and school Administrators, with the help of the National Congress of American Indians-NCAI.
The change occurred rather peacefully.
Three years later on the West Coast, Stanford University (Indians) located in Palo Alto, California followed in the footsteps of Dartmouth, changing their name to “THE CARDINAL” or “TREE”. The Stanford student body did so peacefully with educational seminars.
The students, administration, and teachers were in admiration of the Native American Protest on Alcatraz Island in 1972-74. This protest on Alcatraz Island reminded America about the oppressive and troublesome situation of most Native American citizens.
Here are some of the psychological and physical effects of using negative Native American mascots, nicknames, and logos.
- The misconceived and self-serving concept of having Native American mascots in these American houses of learning is dehumanizing and perpetuates inaccurate stereotypes. Native American children are learning that their ancestors were wild and untamed humans. Most American media often betrays this war-like violent behavior. Just watch any old black and white cowboy movie. We all know who the heroes will be.
- The United States Department of Justice stated that Native Americans are twice as likely to be a victim of violent crime as African or Asian Americans. Overall, poor people in America are impacted more by violent crimes.
- Most sports figures or teams have their own rituals, battle cries, maybe even imitating real battles and real wars. At the beginning of every University of Illinois football game or a Florida State University football game male dresses in Native American warrior gear and rides out on his trusty horse. The Seminole, or Illini, rider gallops across the field with a flaming spear in his hand throwing it into the ground at the 50-yard line, thus signaling the beginning of the game. This ritual is executed time and time again. This performance perpetuates the stereotype of violent savage behavior by Native Americans. Wanting war against the opposing team.
- These five profession teams have a cartoon-like characterization of mascots, i.e. Chief Wahoo of baseball’s Cleveland Indians. This mechanism is well known and often used during times of war to dehumanize an enemy. The result allows the portrayer to trivialize the concerns of the one being portrayed and simultaneously helps protect self-esteem by relieving guilt feelings. This was done also to African Americans after the Civil War, in books, songs, and poems throughout post Civil War America. The examples portray African Americans as shiftless, shady, and lazy people, Native Americans as wild beasts that cannot be tamed, Asian Americans as very smart. These are all stereotypes used for mascots, nicknames, and logos.
- Even the concept of having mascots or nicknames may be, in reality, an ego defense. Thus, the honoring of Native Americans, African Americans, or Asian Americans could protect one from facing the real facts of past genocidal horrors inflicted on the very individuals they are honoring.
- Having Native or African American mascots freezes time in a period one is more conformable with, never wanting to know, or never wanting to see the truth of past historical events. America has continuously run away from historical facts while trying to sugar coat horrendous events. Events like the Civil War are glorified not telling the historical trauma it caused the nation.
- The lack of political power, monetary power, and social power to demand the removal of these mascots maintain the status quo of institutionalized racism at college campuses and at the professional levels.
As a African America-Native-American watching teams like The San Diego Aztecs, The Chattanooga Moccasins, The University of Utah Utes, and The Central Michigan Chippewas made me very proud because they represented one tribe, one nation, unlike the Golden State Warriors, Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, or The Washington Football Club with generic names.
The future looked promising in dismantling a lot of Native American mascots throughout America. The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux finally ended their struggles with their mascot becoming the Fighting Hawks after a seven-year battle and two years without a name.
U.N.D. has been known to have a very good hockey team going to the “Frozen Four” college hockey final four many times.
The Marquette University Warriors in 1972 abandoned the “Willie Wampum” mascot and in 1994-95 season changed their name to “Golden Eagles”. The St John’s Redman also changed their name to Red Storm in 1990. The St John’s school administrators were so afraid that America would misinterpret their name to Native American/First Nation citizens. It did not; the Name Redmen came from a social club of undergrads that wore Red Suits.
All of these fine universities and colleges are making a good faith effort to respect and honor Native Americans, leaving many sports fans questioning why the professional teams cannot follow suit?
The Atlanta Braves dropped Chief Kocahoma from their program in 1980. Chief Kocahoma would dance near his outfield teepee after every Atlanta Braves home run, but fans of the Braves still maintain that Tomahawk Chop (which is not Native American).
The Cleveland Indians dropped smiling Chief Wahoo on their caps, uniforms, and press media guides in 1992-93. Only to have it return in 1994 when the team moved into their new stadium, Jacobs Field, now Progressive Field. The Cleveland Indians continue to play mind games with the American Public. Finally, in 2019 The Cleveland Indian organization retired Chief Wahoo once again, let’s see how long it will be this time.
African Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans need to help our Native American brothers and sisters in this battle for respect and honor.
The next step could be an economic boycott of the Kansas City Chiefs, and The Washington Football Club.
Please read about the past sports mascots and help (AISTM) American Indian Sports Team Mascots and The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). Some of the information in this article comes from the NCAI, AISTM, and Gibbs Magazine web sites.
P.S. This is the 700th article by Gary Norris Gray on Black Athletes Sports Network. Special thanks to all that have made it possible.
Gary Norris Gray – Writer, Author, Historian. Gibbs Magazine-Oakland, California and New England Informer- Boston Mass. THE GRAYLINE:- The Analects of A Black Disabled Man, The Gray Leopard Cove on Blogtalkradio.com Disabled Community Activist. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org