Why Do We Still Have Derogatory Team Names in American Sports?


Anderson Graphics

Rage over this image of RG3? Screenshot from Indian Country Today site.

A reigning issue today in sports is the misuse of Native American terms and mascots in professional football, hockey, baseball, and basketball leagues. Currently the team most under fire for their name and mascot is the Washington Redskins of the NFL. In 1932 when the Redskins chose their name it may have been more widely accepted (considering how small of a voice the Native American population has had). But today in the age of social media the offense this name has is more widely known. When it comes to names it all depends on what it is. The Florida State Seminoles is not offensive. They actually have agreements with local Seminole tribes in the area on the name and mascot. While on the other hand the “Redskins” are honoring no specific tribe and are actually using a derogatory term.

“Redskin” was once used to describe Native Americans because of the red hue many have to their skin. Very similar to calling someone the N-word. Now the conversation on whether what is worse, the N-word or “Redskin” or if their equally offensive is a whole other topic and not what this article is about. But if the N-word was derived from the Latin word Negro (meaning black) to describe African Americans, why would it be OK to refer to a Native American as a Redskin? Could you imagine if the team was called the Washington Negros?  This points out a specific kind of racism  that seems immune to progress.  Look how our culture has become that its fine for me to say redskin over and over in this article but at the same time to stay “politically correct” I’m supposed to say “the N-word” and not what the N-word really is.

Currently 50 U.S. Senators and thousands of displeased citizens have requested the NFL to change the name of the team. Still they refuse claiming the name is in no way meant to be disrespectful but instead honor and appreciate Native Americans. That would be fine if it was like what Florida State has done with the local Seminole tribes. But that is not what they’re doing. Their team isn’t called the Washington Powhatans, or even the Washington Native Americans. They’re using what was once a racial slur and doing the complete opposite of what they claim their intentions are.

The NFL has another team that can be considered “racist” is the Kansas City Chiefs. Now when the team was moved to Kansas City, Missouri they adopted the name Chief in honor of the once mayor of Kansas City, Harold Roe Bartle, who has earned the nickname “Chief” as a once chief boy scout in his younger years. So in no means did they ever have intentions to refer to Native American cultures. But since Native Americans have been addressed as “chief” more times than once–much like the term redneck, it is not usually used in a nice or friendly way– and the team now using a Native American arrow head as their logo it raises some eyebrows. Leaving people asking, “Did they really just do that?” Even their mascot at one time was a so called “Native American” riding around on a horse.

[Full disclosure: The author is a member of the Oneida Iroquois.]


Further Reading:

81 year old article shows the truth behind the Redskins name…not what the current owners/management say it is.

The Navajo Nation believes that racism anywhere affects everyone, take a stand against the Redskin name.