John Guenther: Racist mascots aren't an honor for Native people

A Cleveland baseball fan in a fake headdress. Image from 100 Years of the Cleveland Indians Mascot, a video by Mary Annette Pember

John Guenther calls on athletes to take a stand against racist mascots like those represented by the Washington NFL team and the Cleveland baseball team:
Clearly the two most famous violators of consciousness are the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians. The Redskins were a team that refused to racially integrate; they would not allow non-white players to play for the team until they were threatened with Federal intervention. The Redskins were the last team to employee minority players; the team under threat of civil rights actions from the Kennedy Administration integrated and drafted Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. He was traded to the Cleveland Browns but the Redskins finally began to draft minority players to play with the team.

The true issue is; many believe that Indian people should be honored by these mascots, but we are not. It doesn’t matter what the majority feels either, at one time the majority of America was in favor of slavery. It also doesn’t matter that a team can find a tribal member to support their name, what solely matters is, is it right or wrong? The Redskins used to be called the Braves prior to moving to DC from Boston. The team has a long history of going against the tide, when race is an issue.

The trademark issue of teams like the Redskins is moving forward in the courts. The Redskin’s position will be, it is an illegal seizing of property, but it is not as many trademarks have been changed and without the loss of income. I received a Master’s degree from a school that was formerly named the ‘Savages’ and is now called the Eagles. They are able to market and sell their product just fine. The court needs to ask themselves this, if the Redskins lose, and their name/logo/trademarks are not protected, would they on their principle continue to "honor" tribal members? They would not, due to the massive amount of money they would lose, they would change their name.

The Cleveland Indians long held connection to Chief Wahoo is also objectionable. Many do not know this but originally Chief Wahoo was painted yellow, later to be changed to red. Speaking for the team, Bob DiBiasio stated, in reference to Chief Wahoo, he was “not meant to represent anyone or any group.” Clearly it represents Indians, it is a cartoon characterization of Indian people and Indian people should be honored? I am not honored by Chief Wahoo.

Get the Story:
John Guenther: Racist Team Names: A Call to Athletes (Indian Country Today 6/16)

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