The controversy over the use of Native American mascots in sports

The controversy over the use of Native American mascots in sports

The controversy over the use of Native American mascots in sports

The image of Indians has always been romanticized and admired for their heroism and courage. Many see the use of their warrior and brave image in American sports mascots as a way to pay tribute to Native Americans, but many would also argue that these mascots demean their native traditions and rituals.

This opposition to mascots that portray Native Americans in a negative light began as a campaign in the 1960s by a group called the National Congress of American Indians. They strongly believe that sports teams using mascots with names like the Braves and Redskins only serve as negative stereotypes of their people. They claim fans wearing war paint, chicken feather hats and brandishing rubber tomahawks are offensive, demeaning and racist.

Those who disagree point out that team names like the Warriors and Braves represent fighting men just like those of other cultures. This is no different than using team names like the Vikings, Minutemen, or Musketeers. Nicknames such as the Fighting Irish, Flying Dutchmen, Trojans, and Spartans (just to name a few) are not considered offensive, so the use of Native American nicknames should not be interpreted as having racist or derogatory connotations.

There does seem to be a disconnect between Indian activists who oppose Indian team names and mascots and the Indian population who do not. Over ninety percent of American Indians and the majority of US sports fans surveyed find names and mascots acceptable.

Some college teams have decided to make changes out of respect for Native American culture. The use of these racial mascots on elementary, middle and high school sports teams has become a problem. The claim is that young people are not taught to respect certain ethnic groups and these stereotypes will only encourage racism. The lack of sports mascots based on African, Asian and Mexican Americans only supports claims made by opposition groups that Native Americans are being selected.

Proponents of the use of Native American mascots insist that they are meant to be respectful and serve only to pay tribute to the Indian people. Far from being pejorative, these mascots are considered ideal for sports teams because they focus on courage, bravery and fighting skills.

But there are also financial impacts and costs to consider. Changing team names and mascots would affect merchandise that generates millions of dollars in sales each year. Opponents don’t care about the negative financial cost to team franchises. All they want is a change in the way Americans view true Native American culture and traditions. They believe this change will replace the trivialized way they are perceived and hopefully erase the racial stereotypes they feel they have had to endure for too long.

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