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Native American Mascots in Sports Essay

College/university and professional sports team’s symbols and mascots are highly visible. Most often, fans take the values attributed to sport symbols seriously. A certain symbolism is projected by athletic team nicknames in general. In most cases, athletic team’s names are animals, objects, or natural phenomena. Symbols can be positive such as bravery, courage, and strength, or negative such as brutality, fury, violence, and viciousness. However, most often Native Americans mascots and team names are symbolized with the more negative traits (Fuller and Manning).

Nuessel states that the “traditional image of Native Americans in the print and non-print media depicts the indigenous population as brutal, savage, inhumane, and uncivilized. ” This negative reflection of Native American people and culture results in a highly controversial issue. Sport Team Mascots Issue Two of the ten most popular college and university team nicknames and mascots refer to Native Americans; Indians and Warriors. Although Franks found the most common college and university nickname was the Eagles, all nicknames associated with Native Americans in combination far outnumber the Eagles.

The most frequently used Native names are Indians, Redman, Warriors, Savages, Braves, and Chiefs. Even though the nickname Warrior can be associated with others besides Native Americans, the logos that accompany this nickname typically depict a caricature of a Native American. In addition, many team nicknames relate to specific Native American groups such as the Illini, Hurons, Choctaws, Apaches, Pequots, Sioux, Chippewas, Blackhawks, and Mohawks. According to Davis, Native American sports mascots emerged in the early 1900s at a time when Native Americans civil and legal rights were ignored.

Despite the efforts of various groups (e. g. , American Indian Movement (AIM) & White Earth Land Recovery Project) to end the depiction of Native American images by athletic teams, these names remain popular around the country. Reflecting the broad challenge to make social change in how institutions interact with or reflect minorities and ethnicity in America due to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, higher education institutions (and even high schools) began to be challenged to drop any references to American Indians in their mascot names and sports imagery.

The National Congress of American Indians put out a call in 1968 that all schools stop using American Indian-themed sports nicknames and mascots. Despite a three-decade period of reflection on the appropriateness of sports teams using Indian themes for names, mascots, and visual imagery, the number of teams that continue to use them is remarkable. The number of Ohio sports teams featuring American Indian nicknames and visual imagery is the largest among all states at more than 200. The most frequently used Indian-related team nickname is the deceptively simple “Indians,” used by more than half of those with Indian-related names.

Almost two dozen public school teams in the state continue to use the nickname, “Redskins. ” This is the largest number of such uses among all states. In 2004, the National Collegiate Athletics Association determined that 33 of its members used Indian-themed nicknames (such as Braves, Chiefs, Warriors, specific tribal names, or Tribe) or used Indian-related images (Indian profiles or heads, feathers, arrows, or tomahawks) and were asked to submit self-evaluations centered around three key NCAA principles involving cultural diversity and gender equity (Article 2.

2. 2); the principle of sportsmanship and ethical conduct (Article 2. 4); and the principle of nondiscrimination (Article 2. 6). The self-evaluations were expected to detail the extent to which the schools used or made references to Native Americans in any of their publications or other public images (NCAA). “Colleges and universities may adopt any mascot that they wish, as that is an institutional matter,” said Walter Harrison, chair of the Executive Committee and president at the University of Hartford.

“But as a national association, we believe that mascots, nicknames or images deemed hostile or abusive in terms of race, ethnicity or national origin should not be visible at the championship events that we control. ” Response from Colleges and Universities Awareness has increased recently among colleges and universities concerning the reactions to their Native-related athletic team nicknames and a number of universities/colleges have changed or are considering changing their nickname. For example, Native American students at Stanford University and Dartmouth College were successful in getting their former school nickname “Indians” changed.

Native American students at Dartmouth College declared the name “Indians” was an “offensive distortion of Indian culture and history that was sometimes sacrilegious. ” Dartmouth officials were persuaded by their Native students and no longer wanted to perpetuate a negative and stereotypical distortion of Indigenous peoples. Many public K-12 schools have joined colleges and universities in changing their sports team nicknames away from those reflecting American Indians. One such case is Syracuse University, one of the earliest to adopt an Indian-themed name and mascot.

In 1978, with little public notice, Syracuse dropped all references to its half century of using an Indian as mascot. Other institutions reshaped their nicknames or dropped offensive visual images. For example, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga dropped Chief Moccanooga in 1996, when teams became the “Mocs”—short for Mockingbirds, the state bird of Tennessee. Thousands of high school and several professional sports teams continue to use Indian identities. Miami University took a familiar road to dropping its 68-year usage of the “Redskins” nickname.

From denial to justifications to silence to hearings to change, the road to the “RedHawks” represents a typical pattern, seen in the experiences of other institutions, such as the University of Illinois (“The Illini”) or the University of North Dakota (“The Fighting Sioux”)—who have not changed their mascots, and similar to those institutions who have similarly changed their nicknames and mascots, such as Syracuse University (from “Warriors” to “The Orangemen”) or Colgate University (from “Red Raiders” and an Indian mascot to “Raiders” without reference to Indian themes).

Some verbal and even nonverbal behavior displayed by team fans and game attendees, such as the “tomahawk chop”, are examples of stereotyping perpetuated by Native mascots. Many generic or cartoonish Native American paraphernalia are sold to fans such as plastic tomahawks and turkey feather war bonnets or ceremonial bonnets. Many Native American tribes and individuals find such items and behavior offensive. The use of plastic toys and inappropriate gestures mock ceremonial objects and spiritual rituals that Native people hold in deep respect.

Nuessel suggests the most offensive mascot to Native Americans may be Chief Illiniwek of the University of Illinois. Nuessel writes “this derogatory, stereotypic personification of American Indians, always interpreted by a white male, often employs facial kinetic gestures (menacing waves of a tomahawk, war dances), and paralinguistic utterances (war whoops) to mimic an American Indian chief. ” The official position of the University of Illinois is that the chief honors Native Americans, asserting that the mascot’s costume is hand made by Native Americans and that the dance is authentic.

University officials stated “the chief is not an invention, mascot, or caricature, or sacrilegious, but an honorable, authentic reproduction. ” However, Slowikowski reports the University of Illinois’ Chief Illiniwek never existed in any Native American tribe, nor does his dance “replicate any authentic dance that a specified tribe would’ve performed. ” In 1991 and 1992, large groups protested against the use of the term “Redskins” and “Braves” during the Super Bowl and World Series, respectively. Davis analyzed the protests, investigating the media coverage related to this movement.

A list of arguments for and against the use of Native Americans as nicknames, logos, and mascots was presented. Proponents and Opponents Anti-mascot proponents argue the use of mascots, logos, paraphernalia, and related fan actions perpetuate racist stereotypes of Native Americans and their respective cultures. For example, as noted above, the Native American as the “bloodthirsty savage” who exhibits wild, aggressive, and violent traits is perpetuated by the use of Native’s as mascots. LaDuke argues the “invention” or depiction of Native Americans as aggressors is particularly offensive because it distorts the historical reality.

Many Native people view the European Americans as the aggressors, raiding Native American lands and oppressing indigenous people. Another argument against the use of team mascots suggests that Native Americans are only part of the past, thus obscuring the lives and issues of contemporary Native Americans. Davis states that, “according to some of the activists, recognizing and understanding the lives of present-day Native Americans both challenges the stereotypes and in some ways provides evidence of past oppression.

” Other arguments include the offensive nature of imitation or misuse of symbols that have religious significance to some Native American people. Perhaps the most common argument though, is that they negatively influence the self-image and self-esteem of Native Americans, especially Native American children. Individuals supporting the continued use of Native American mascots and symbols for sport teams, argue the use is an honor and tribute to Native Americans, because they are viewed as people associated with bravery, strength, pride, and a fighting spirit.

Additional arguments cited by Davis include the idea that the use does not intend to offend Native Americans, that not all Native Americans object to their use, and that there are other mascots modeled after other ethnic groups such as the Vikings and the Irish and that people from these groups do not find these offensive. Some individuals also stated that because they support Native Americans in general, it is acceptable for them to use a Native mascot. Sigelman investigated public attitudes toward the Washington Redskins professional football team.

Telephone surveys were completed in the Washington, DC area and nationally. Sigelman reported that very few members of the public felt a need to change Redskins name. However, significantly higher numbers of ethnic minorities, those more educated and those who were not Washington Redskins fans supported a name change. Washington Redskin officials defended the name claiming it “reflects positive attributes of the Native American such as dedication, courage, and pride. ” Supporters of the Redskins name and logo further suggested the name implied positive elements such as bravery, wisdom, and spirituality.

Based on the survey, Sigelman suggested supporters were blindly engaging in racial stereotyping and if they did realize their participation was discriminatory, they downplayed the significance. A similar study by Fenelon was conducted in the Cleveland, OH area regarding the Cleveland Indians baseball team’s mascot “Chief Wahoo”. There were distinct European American, African American, and Native American trends seen in the results. Despite continued protest by Native Americans, European Americans agreed that the symbol should remain under all conditions, whereas African American responses were generally neutral.

More than half of the European Americans refused or failed to empathize with the Native American perspective and did not recognize “Wahoo” as offensive. Additionally for Euro-Americans, the mascot was not associated with racism. More recently, a national telephone survey was conducted that was published in Sports Illustrated. The poll conducted by the Peter Harris Research Group for Sports Illustrated interviewed 351 Native Americans (217 living on a reservation and 134 living off) as well as 734 “sports fans”.

The results of the poll indicated that 83% of Native Americans responded that professional teams should not stop using Native nicknames, mascots, or symbols, and 79% of “sports fans” also agreed with that statement. The pollsters further report there is a difference in opinion between Natives on or off the reservation. It was reported that only 67% of Natives living on the reservation agreed that professional teams should not stop using Native names and mascots, while 87% of Natives living off the reservation agreed that pro teams should not stop using nicknames and mascots that represent Native Americans.

In response to the question regarding the use of Redskin (as in Washington Redskins), it was reported that 57% of Natives living on the reservation did not object to the name and 72% of Natives living off the reservation did not object. Discussion and Conclusion Why had mascots become an issue at school board meetings around the nation? Why were school mascots important to people, especially in rural communities? Weren’t school mascots really just associated with sports teams? It was true that many people associated the school mascot with sports teams.

This was partially the reason why mascots were so popular in communities. Americans had put a very high value on athletics, and high school athletics were no exception. High school athletics were not strictly entertainment. They helped build the district’s identity. They were the only way that many outside people knew other districts, and they were sometimes the only way that many local people felt connected with their school. Because of this, mascots were a way of showing support and pride for one’s district.

Many people wore their Cardinals shirt, or Indians hat with pride for not only the teams but for their district, and in many cases, the community in general. This seemed to be especially true for people who were long time residents of the district or were very closely related to the schools. Mascots were a way of expressing pride. For example, it did not mean the same to Sparta alumni to say, “I am from Sparta,” as it did to say, “I am a Sparta Spartan. ” Being a Sparta Spartan probably meant you went to school at Sparta High School and participated in activities.

Mascots could also add fun to events. It was not uncommon to see a tiger dancing at a Black River Falls football game, or Herby the beaver on the court of a Reedsburg basketball game. Most high school homecomings would not have been complete without floats in parades and downtown store windows covered with pictures of mascots from the home team and the opposing team. Some high schools had so much pride in their mascot that they would have huge statues of their mascot in the school’s front yard, or complete gymnasium walls covered with the honored symbol.

In smaller towns with only one high school, the mascot was often times not just the symbol of the school but also of the community itself. This was part of what made changing that mascot so difficult. Why then were problems occurring around the nation with the use of mascots? Why did sports teams have mascots and continue to use mascots and logos? Did schools really need to have a mascot that represented their sports teams and possibly their communities? The literature revealed that communities can get very attached to their mascot and changing or removing a mascot could become very emotional.

Extreme emotions appeared to be even more prevalent in small towns where generations of families had been through the school system, and communities adopted the mascot as the community mascot. Mascots were meant to be fun, build excitement for the school, and build general school spirit. They also connected the community with the schools, and served as an ambassador for the school, building a positive attitude about the local school. At the same time, mascots could be harmful to students and people.

They could cause debate and anger, tear a community apart, cost or cause a loss of large amounts of money, get schools into tremendous legal battles, and cause administrators and school board members to lose their jobs. Some schools began to ask themselves if they even needed a mascot, but if communities could get this emotional over a mascot then they could also have value. Schools needed to understand the power, political, and emotional value of a school mascot. Schools needed to market their appropriate mascots and use them to their advantage.

Schools had an easy way to promote themselves and build good will in a community. Many were not taking advantage of this long time standard that existed. Works Cited Black, J. The “mascotting” of Native America. American Indian Quarterly 26. 4 (2002): 605-622. Clark, D. “Unambiguous. A survey of native professionals on mascot usage. ” Kansas University, 2003 <http://people. ku. edu/~tyeeme/mascots. html> Davis, L. “Protest against the use of Native American mascots: A challenge to traditional American identity. ” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 17. 1 (1993): 9-22. Fenelon, J.

“Indian icons in the World Series of racism: Institutionalization of the racial symbols of Wahoos and Indians. ” Research in Politics and Society 6 (1999): 24-45 Franks, R. What’s in a nickname? Naming the jungle of college athletic mascots. Amarillo, TX: Ray Franks Publishing Ranch, 1982. Fuller, J. and Manning, E. “Violence and sexism in college mascots and symbols: A typology. ” Free Inquiry in Creative Sociology 15. 1 (1987): 61-64. King, R. , Staurowsky, E. , Baca, L. , Davis, L. , & Pewewardy, C. “Of polls and race prejudice: Sports Illustrated’s errant ‘Indian Wars’.

” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 26. 4 (2002, November): 381-403. LaDuke, W. All our relations: Native struggles for land and life. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999 Munson, B. “Not for Sport: A Native American Activist Calls for an End to ‘Indian’ Team. Mascots. ” Teaching Tolerance (Spring 1999): 40-43. National Collegiate Athletics Association. NCAA Executive Committee Issues Guidelines for Use of Native American Mascots at Championship Events, 2005 <http://www2. ncaa. org/portal/media and events/press room/2005/august/20050805 exec comments.

html. > Nuessel, F. “Objectionable sport team designations. ” Names 42. 2 (1994): 101-119. Price, S. L. and Woo, A. The Indian wars. Sports Illustrated 96. 10 (2002): 66-72. Spindel, C. Dancing at Halftime: Sports and the Controversy over American Indian Mascots. New York: New York University Press, 2002. Slowikowski, S. “Cultural performance and sport mascots. ” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 17. 1 (1993): 23-33. Sigelman, L. “Наil to the redskins? Public reactions to a racially insensitive team name. ” Sociology of Sport Journal 15 (1998): 317-325.


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