Mascots have always been an important symbol for athletic teams across the world; however, these friendly, fun-loving faces are not always looked at fondly.
Over the course of time, mascots like St. John’s University Chief Blackjack or the Syracuse Saltine Warrior have been phased out because of controversial ties. Yet, there still remains a fair amount of professional and collegiate organizations named after tribes.
The most controversial athletic organizations who continue to characterize themselves with tribes are the Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Blackhawks, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Florida State Seminoles.
Although these teams have been under much scrutiny for years, only a small amount of change has gone into effect. Teams such as the Redskins, Chiefs, Indians and Blackhawks have never really had a physical mascot, but the franchises continue to be represented by a native figure in some fashion.
The Washington Redskins of the NFL have always been the most controversial organization out of all the Native American based teams. In 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of United States Patent and Trademark office attempted to cancel six of the Redskins federal trademark registrations.
The claims against the Redskins were that the name is “too disparaging to Native Americans,” but in the end, the team was still granted the ability to use the term Redskin in its name. Although the team is pressed often to change the name, the owners of the organization vow that they will never move away from being the called the Redskins.
“I wouldn’t necessarily agree with a new professional sports franchise taking a Native American name, but the teams who already hold these names mean a lot to the city and people they play for,” Jack Sanders, a junior at Cabrini University, said.
Another NFL organization named the Kansas City Chiefs have never been under as much backfire as an organization like the Redskins. The team identifies with Native American culture, but the fans of the team are usually more scrutinized than the organization itself.
Over the years, Chief fans have been notorious for dressing up in Native American headdresses and beating on giant Native American drums. The fans of the Chiefs, Braves and Seminoles all have one thing in common: the tomahawk chop.
The tomahawk chop is a celebratory chant performed in unison by the fans of each of these teams. The fans in the crowd all chant together while swinging their arms up and down, mimicking a Native American tomahawk.
Although the Chicago Blackhawks use Native American culture to represent their team, they are one of the more respected teams. The Blackhawks have made numerous efforts in regards to respecting the Native American community, including a partnership with an American Indian center in Chicago.
In addition to their community outreach, the team has a rule in place that restricts players going near or on the Blackhawk logo on the floor of the locker room, out of respect.
“There are definitely some mascots that are more inappropriate than others, but I think you also have to go back in history and see why some teams are named what they are,” David Howell, the athletic communication director at Cabrini University, said.
In Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians team mascot, Chief Wahoo, has been looked at as offensive ever since he came into existence. Like the Redskins, the organization has been pressed to change the mascot many times over the years.
Although they have not phased out the mascot entirely, they have moved more towards representing the team with a simple capital “C” for Cleveland.
“The Indians have really toned down the use of the Chief Wahoo logo, but I think it’s important just to go the whole way and get rid of it,” Dr. Francis Klose said.
Klose, a religious studies professor at Cabrini University, believes that there is no reason for the use of Native American culture in sports
“I don’t see in this day and age why there should be any names related to a person’s culture,” Klose said.
The argument against using Native American tribes and culture is simply that it is a part of history. The way that the Native Americans are depicted through cartoons are unjust and give a negative connotation towards their race of people.
For example, Chief Osceola was an actual person with an actual life, important to the history of the Native American people. Instead of recognizing who he really was, people think of Chief Osceola as a fictional character who charges onto the Florida State field pregame and pitches a fiery torch into the ground.
Some people tend to believe that this may all be harmless, but others take it to heart. A non-profit organization titled Not Your Mascots stands for the rights of Native American people who are portrayed unjustly through athletic mascots. This organization voices their opinions against teams who are named after tribes or figures in Native American culture.
The organization and its members take time traveling to stadiums across the country to protest wherever one of these Native American based teams are playing.
Most recently, the group was spotted outside Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia for a contest between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins.
“A conversation should definitely happen,” Michael Bennett, assistant director of admissions, said. “Each of these teams represents something different, but it’s hard to determine whether they give the culture a positive stereotype.”