Opinion | Sports

Opinion: Racist sports mascots preserve 'imaginary' Indians

The logo for the Change the Mascot campaign

Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor for The Washington Post, talks to Kevin Gover, the director of the National Museum of the American Indian, about racist sports mascots:
Kevin Gover first objected to the name of Washington’s professional football team in 1973 in a letter to then-owner Edward Bennett Williams.

Williams never acknowledged the letter, Gover recalled recently, admitting that his high-schooler’s passion may have been a bit over the top. “I probably wouldn’t have answered that letter if I’d received it, either,” he said with a rueful smile.

Gover, a citizen of the Pawnee Nation and director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, has since polished his diplomatic skills. But he well remembers the shock he felt moving here from Oklahoma with his family and suddenly encountering the name seemingly everywhere he turned.

“The nastiest thing people ever said to us had become the name of an NFL team? I didn’t comprehend it then, and I don’t now,” Gover said during a visit to The Post last week.

Gover is now in a position to do something about it: not to persuade the imperturbable Dan Snyder, of course, but to help other Americans understand the historical context that makes the name so offensive. And for those of us who think we get that a slur is a slur, who think we know the narrative of white expropriation from Native Americans, Gover wants to show that the history is richer and more complex than we may have been taught.

Get the Story:
Fred Hiatt: Moving beyond the ‘imaginary Indians’ perception (The Washington Post 9/22)

More Opinions:
Jonathan Capeheart: Could ditching ‘Redskins’ take heat off the NFL? (The Washington Post 9/18)
Michael Leroy Oberg: Dropping 'Redskins' a small step (The Albany Times-Union 9/19)

Also Today:
The Daily Show springs tense showdown with Native Americans on Redskins fans (The Washington Post 9/20)

Join the Conversation

Related Stories:
Norbert Hill: It's past time to drop the Washington NFL mascot (9/18)
Peter d'Errico: Connecting mascots to racism and termination (9/18)
Opinion: Eliminating NFL team's racist mascot is just the start (9/18)
Student newspaper punished over refusal to print the R-word (9/18)
Sen. Cantwell to introduce bill to end NFL's tax-exempt status (9/16)
Bruce Anderson: Washington team name preserves stereotypes (9/15)
Column: DC-area Native people oppose NFL team's racist mascot (9/15)
Coalition asks broadcasters to avoid Washington NFL team's name (09/04)
Editorial: It's time to sack Washington NFL team's offensive name (09/04)
Las Vegas Paiute Tribe rejected 'gift' from NFL team's foundation (08/29)
Artist Gregg Deal takes on Indian mascots for performance piece (08/28)
Sports announcer won't use Washington NFL team's name on air (08/28)
Ray Young Bear: No tribal member wants to be known by R-word (8/22)
Washington Post: Editorial board will no longer use R-word 'slur' (8/22)
Matthew Murguia: The facts are clear on Washington NFL mascot (8/22)
Walt Lamar: Remove Gary Edwards from law enforcement group (8/21)
Mike Wise: Longtime NFL referee avoided Washington's games (8/21)
Broadcasters won't use racist mascot of Washington NFL team (8/19)
Editorial: Virginia governor fumbles on NFL team's racist mascot (8/14)
Washington NFL team video features Indian Country supporters (08/13)
Artists from Zuni Pueblo try to sell work to Washington NFL team (08/12)
NFL team gave VIP treatment to man who couldn't spell his tribe (08/12)
Jim Enote: NFL team owner brushed away concerns over mascot (08/12)
Opinion: NFL team seeks to whitewash history with Indian art (08/11)
Tim Giago: NFL team's mascot will slowly fade like an old soldier (08/11)
Original Americans Foundation wants art with NFL team's logo (08/08)
Alabama-Coushatta Tribe refutes claim of support for NFL team (08/07)
University seeks to prevent use of NFL team's name at stadium (08/07)
Ex-player claims Alabama-Coushatta Tribe honored by mascot (08/06)
Ted Quasula: NNALEA leader intent on destroying group's image (08/05)
Column: Virginia eager to embrace NFL team's racist mascot (08/04)
Chippewa Cree Tribe takes Original Americans Foundation money (08/01)