Is the Ethnic Mascot Controversy Over?

Is the Ethnic Mascot Controversy Over?

Mascots, flags and logos have almost always been a part of American Sports, whether on the high school, college, professional, or even pee-wee level. However, some sports teams have nicknames and mas¬cots that have been the target of the politically correct that have alleged that an ethnic mascot is discriminatory or offensive and should be banned or discontinued. Professional and college teams such as the Atlanta Braves, Florida Seminoles, Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, and Chicago Blackhawks have been accused of being racially insensitive by using nicknames that might be construed as condescending to the Native American culture.

A big controversy a few years ago was whether or not such names should be outlawed by governmental intervention or voluntarily changed. St Jones University voluntarily changed its mascot’s name from the Redmen to the Red Storm. Later Dartmouth College, Marquette University and Stanford dropped their Indian mascots.

In 2005, the NCAA threatened to sanction schools with tribal logos and/or nicknames, including the University of North Dakota (UND) who were known as the Fighting Sioux. The sanctions would not allow schools like UND to use their names or logos in post-season play and those schools would not be able to host post-season championships. In November 2006, UND was granted a preliminary injunction to prevent the NCAA from enforcing the rule.

On October 26, 2007, a settlement between UND and the NCAA was reached preventing the case from going to trial. The settlement gave UND three years to gain support from the state's Sioux tribes (the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Tribal Counsels) to continue to use the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. If that support is not granted at the end of the three years, UND agreed to retire the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, and pick a new nickname and logo to represent UND's athletic teams.The Spirit Lake Sioux members voted to keep the nickname and logo but the Fighting Sioux disagreed. The matter still has not been settled.

There are good arguments on both sides of the issue. As one distinguished Sports Law Book Author noted:

Should mascots such as the Warriors, Apaches and Comanches be outlawed by the government as racially offensive or should such team nicknames be revered instead? After all, there are 11 states with Native American names and countless geographic points including lakes, rivers, and streets. Should a state or local government be able to prohibit the use of ethnic team names in light of the First Amendment of the Constitution's freedom of speech protection? 1

Dr. Craig T Bogar wrote:

It is argued by some that institutions should not have a symbol that relies on a stereotype, particularly a stereotype that was used to justify a national policy of genocide against a “war-like” people. The terms “redskin” and “redman” emphasized how Native Americans were different, and dehumanized people whose culture white colonists did not understand. Why is it acceptable to use the Native American as a mascot and where other ethnic and cultural groups are not used as mascots in a similar derogatory fashion? Some Native Americans argue that our society would “never allow a team called the New York Jews or a log carrying versions of the famous (sic) “N” word” would never be tolerated.2

Many individuals who support the use of Native American mascots state that their use is meant to be respectful, and focus on bravery, courage and fighting skills rather than anything derogatory. Karl Swanson, vice-president of the Washington Redskins professional football team, stated in Sports Illustrated that his team's name "symbolizes courage, dignity, and leadership," and that the "Redskins symbolize the greatness and strength of a grand people.”

This writer has not seen anything in the news or read of any new developments regarding this controversy in a couple of years. Has this controversy died out or just not been in the news lately?

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1 Sports Law at p. 251 by Adam Epstein, Delmar Leaning (2003)

2 The Injustice of Native American Mascots: A Legal Perspective, The Sports Digest, http://thesportdigest.com/article/injustice-native-american-mascots-legal-perspective