FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Mascots Who Shall Not be Named

by TOM SEMIOLI

As a teen growing up in a white working class suburban neighborhood during the 1970s, I distinctly recall that most of my high-school friends with older siblings who had departed town for college left behind worn copies of Sly and the Family Stone’s most popular album Stand! (Epic, 1969). The chart-topping hits on that particular record were “I Want To Take You Higher” and “Everyday People,” the latter track being the generational anthem with a thumping bass-line calling for racial tolerance, mutual respect, and embracement and celebration of diversity. However one song struck a nerve like no other then or now: “Don’t Call Me N****r, Whitey” which – back in the day, believe it or not – actually garnered airplay on commercial FM radio and even (gasp!) mainstream television.
We who were too young to significantly participate in the 1960s civil rights movement clearly understood Sylvester Stewart’s timely message on side two of that scratchy old vinyl platter. I’m sure those of the hip-hop generation who are wise enough to trace their roots have stumbled upon this seminal recording, much to their good fortune. However there are still some sports teams and their loyal fans who just don’t “get it” when it comes to the stark reality of blatantly racist sports mascots which depict Native Americans as tomahawk chopping savages, or cliché images of a cigar store Indian, and/or buffoonish old-Hollywood stereotypes with feathers sticking out of their heads, to cite a horrific few.
The landscape of college and professional sports is littered with team logos, chants, and other cheer-leading activities that have denigrated and grossly misrepresented a culture that oft practiced a greater reverence for the environment, humanity, and the animal kingdom than did the European settlers who “discovered” America and the generations which have followed. Kudos to the universities who have respected the recommendations of indigenous rights organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians and the American Indian Movement. To my knowledge, college sports did not suffer any loss of interest nor popularity when the University of Stanford dropped “Indians” in favor of “Cardinal,”St. John’s University’s “Redmen” became “Red Storm,” or the Warriors of Marquette University were re-named “Golden Eagles.”
The usual arguments in favor of Native American sports mascots and the subsequent “whoop-la” that supports these figures centers on the supposition that these practices honor Native American attributes including bravery, fighting skills, and rank. Nonsense!
For example, the status of “Chief” in Native American culture is one of great reverence – it is the highest political and social position attainable. I could only imagine the confusion and embarrassment endured by young Native Americans who see such an important part of their culture and religion acting as a circus clown before millions of spectators. How must the elders of these young Native Americans feel? I doubt Catholic Americans would be too thrilled to root for a team named the Pittsburgh Pontiffs whose mascot, let’s call him “Peter Pope,” balanced a cross on his nose like a sea-lion whilst juggling oversized copies of the New Testament on the grid-iron. I’ll spare other fictional religious and racial analogies – but the possibilities are endless. And don’t get me started on the fans who paint their faces akin to Native American tribes – would Catholic Americans appreciate fans in the stands chugging beer whilst adorned in nun habits or wearing clerical collars? I think not.
One of the many important character traits that sports (should) instill in us is that of “respect” – for opponents, for teammates, for coaches, for the rules and rituals of the games, for protocol on and off the playing field, and for the fans. Native Americans are sports fans, they are our teammates, our coaches, our neighbors, and our fellow citizens. Their spirituality and traditional beliefs should not be insulted by beating tom-toms, the wearing of a feather head-dress, nor ghastly attempts at singing Native American songs. Are you listening Washington Redskins? Atlanta Braves? Cleveland Indians? Kansas City Chiefs? And the thousands of high-schools which continue to use Native American imagery?
Unfortunately, Native American groups have lost in the courtroom as well as in the court of public opinion, likely due to the fact that such behavior has been part of the American sports fabric for so many years that we fall ignorant to its harmful effects. Maybe this is free speech – but it is hurtful speech.
Here is a solution: I think it wise that sports fans of conscious follow the commendable modus operandi of the PortlandOregonian newspaper (print version) which refuses to acknowledge the names of sports teams that use Native American nicknames unless the tribe has given the paper permission. The next time you talk sports around the water cooler or local pub try saying “the NFL football team from Washington D.C., or the major league baseball team from Atlanta,” and “the professional football team from Kansas City,” and so forth. Keep repeating it.
We will speak volumes with our silence. Justice through sports!
Tom Semioli is Editor of  www.SportsFanManifesto.Com
More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Douglas Valentine
Who Killed MLK Jr?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
Vijay Prashad
After Aleppo: the State of Syria
John Wight
Russia Must be Destroyed: John McCain and the Case of the Dodgy Dossier
Rob Urie
Meet the Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
The Russian Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over Saddam’s WMDs
Eric Sommer
U.S.-China War: a Danger Hidden from the American People
Andrew Levine
Are Democrats Still the Lesser Evil?
Linda Pentz Gunter
What’s Really Behind the Indian Point Nuclear Deal?
Robert Fantina
Trucks, ‘Terror’ and Israel
Richard Moser
Universal Values are Revolutionary Values
Russell Mokhiber
Build the Bagdikian Wall: “Sponsored News” at the Washington Post
Yoav Litvin
Establishment Narcissism – The Democrats’ Game of Thrones
David Rosen
Return of the Repressed: Trump & the Revival of the Culture Wars
Robert Koehler
War Consciousness and the F-35
Rev. William Alberts
The New Smell of McCarthyism Demands Faith Leaders Speak Truth to Power
John Laforge
Federal Regulator Halts Move to Toughen Radiation Exposure Limits
Norman Pollack
Farewell Address: Nazification of Hope
David Swanson
Imagine the Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Peace
CJ Hopkins
Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works
Ron Jacobs
Striking in Reagan Time
Missy Comley Beattie
The Streep
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: The Potential Impacts of Collective Inaction
Uri Avnery
Confessions of a Megalomaniac
Kenneth Worles
Black Without a Home: King’s Dream Still Deferred
Geoff Dutton
The Russian Patsy
Jill Richardson
The Coming War on Regulations
Jeremy Brecher
Resisting the Trump Agenda is Social Self-Defense
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail