The world has put immense pressure on teams like the former Washington Redskins and the former Cleveland Indians to make a change. Outsiders may think it was foolish to change, others may think it was noble, but money was the only reason they changed. The leadership of the Washington Redskins put this idea into perspective.
“We will never change the name of this team. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”
Ownership of the team kept this mindset until they had no choice. 2020 came around, and the world was in a difficult place. In all honesty, Washington did not care about the criticism of their name until sponsors came into the equation. FedEx has the naming rights to their stadium, and investors forced FedEx to take a stand. Numerous sponsors stepped in and eventually caused the name change.
All decisions in professional sports come down to money, and this is an example of that. The Cleveland Indians faced this same issue. Millions of fans may be angry teams are changing their names, but that is nothing compared to the sponsors’ millions of dollars on the table.
How Native Americans feel about their imagery in sports
Native Americans have a long history of being walked over and not listened to, but professional teams are trying to change that. There are two sides to every story, but most Native Americans do not like the way they are represented in sports.
“American Indians have been oppressed for hundreds of years, and to us, it feels like these mascots are making a mockery of our pain and struggle. Naming a team the Cleveland Indians is equivalent to naming a team the Chicago Negroes.”
Something about an entire stadium filled with fans doing Native American traditions and wearing their clothing doesn’t feel right. When Atlanta Braves or Kansas City Chiefs fans do the famous tomahawk chop, it may unite the fans, but at what cost? Ryan Helsley experienced this first-hand in his rookie season with the St. Louis Cardinals in a playoff game against the Braves.
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general. It’s not me being offended by the whole mascot thing, it’s not. It’s about the misconception of us, the Native Americans, and it devalues us and how we’re perceived in that way or used as mascots.”
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) strongly opposes Native American mascots and imagery. They believe it is disrespectful, but it also misrepresents them. To fully understand their feelings toward this issue, they only refer to the term redskin as the R-word.
Why are teams like Washington and Cleveland changing their names, but the Florida Seminoles are not? The Seminole tribe granted the school permission to use their name, imagery, and traditions. Seminole tribe members in Florida work with the school to teach their way of life, and they have a great relationship.
The future of Native American mascots
The future of Native American mascots does not look bright. College and professional athletics will look a lot different as time goes on.
Fifteen years have passed since the NCAA enacted rules against racial mascots and imagery, but it is still an issue. Teams are allowed to work around the regulations, which has caused some weird mascots to come about. The Bradley Braves previously had an Indian mascot, but they have a gargoyle mascot after the new rules. Many teams no longer have a mascot because of this.
It is likely to see Native American mascots in high school and elementary sports for years to come. Money is the reason behind this, as they do not have to worry about losing millions of dollars as professional teams do.
The biggest issue with these mascots is that they are unethical. In most cases, it is typically non-Native Americans who believe these mascots are honorable. There is nothing honorable about a white man wearing a fake headress to a game. More and more people are starting to understand this, and that jeapordizes the future of these mascots.
Money talks, and other professional teams are in jeapordy of losing their mascot, but for good reason. Who knows what the future will look like, but for now let’s enjoy the sport itself.