The sun beat down upon the pale skin of the crowd as a consistent murmur echoed across the field. Hands simultaneously lifted and then dropped, repeatedly, while every eye gazed with intent upon the figure who stood alone on the grass in the center of the field. He had a glowing red face, an oversized nose, and a red and white feather that pointed to the sky. As the chant continued to resonate, the figure began to dance to the soft harmony of an organ. His nose humorously bounced up and down while the stupid grin on his face never seemed to dissipate. Those who looked upon the sight of the dancing figure smiled back at him and wondered where the hot dog vendor had gone. It was the seventh inning stretch at a Cleveland Indians baseball game and the crowd, in a somewhat inebriated state, cheered wildly at the team’s mascot.
This mascot was not a bull or a bronco, or a giant or a jet, but rather, in my view, was a mean-spirited stereotype of a proud and noble people. In this age of political correctness
, what minority in this country would allow itself to be portrayed in such a demeaning manner? African-Americans, as well as other minorities who have a strong political voice in this country, would not tolerate such behavior and would take immediate action to remedy such an egregious offense. The question that must be asked then is why do we as a society quietly permit such conduct, disrespectful and hurtful to Native Americans, to continue without taking any affirmative action to curtail it?
The answer to this question stirs up underlying issues which we must confront as a society. If the United States continues to dishonor the Native Americans, such actions will not only inhibit the equality that Native Americans deserve, but they will widen the crack in the very foundation of our democracy. True democracy must be accorded to all people within our society, no matter how few in number or how economically disadvantaged. The issue centered around the removal of Indian mascots
and logos from sports teams is emblematic of the struggle of a politically and economically weak minority to achieve equality in this country. For a people to achieve equality within a society, they must be deemed worthy of respect and the failure of a society to demonstrate such respect will only perpetuate discrimination.
The Native Americans, since 1492, have not been treated fairly and their cries for equality have fallen on deaf ears. One reason for this inaction is that the Native American
people only represent eight tenths of one percent of the United States population; accordingly, their voices do not have any political or economic impact. (Wright, 5) Women, on the other hand, represent more than fifty percent of the population, and they have learned how to flex their political and economic strength. For example, in 1986 Hornell Brewing Company introduced a new malt liquor called “Midnight Dragon.” Promotional posters featured a woman in a red dress, stockings, and a garter sipping the brew through a straw. The caption read: “I could suck this all night” This crude depiction of women drew complaints from women’s groups, and the product eventually was withdrawn from the market (Reddick, 3).
In contrast, the same company introduced another malt liquor that was called “Crazy Horse.” Native American activists strongly protested the manufacture and sale of “Crazy’ Horse because it not only demeaned a revered legend of the Native American people, it provoked the stereotype of Native Americans as drunks and continued the association of Native Americans with liquor. Although many Native Americans petitioned and protested, the sale of “Crazy Horse” liquor continued. This lack of response reflects the weakness of the Native American voice in our society, and it is exactly this political and economic weakness that has allowed negative images of Native Americans to persist (Reddick, 3).
The sports mascots and logos utilizing Indian names and logos, in effect, dehumanize Native Americans. Indians are real people, not mythical creatures, like the leprechaun of Notre Dame, or fierce animals, like the Philadelphia Eagles. An examination of this situation is most provocative since no other race or religion has endured depiction as a sports mascot.
We must realize the stigma a racist name or act has on our perception of the people who are the subject matter of such discrimination. Because our educational system does not fairly or accurately reflect our history as it relates to Native Americans, white society does not understand the protests over such pejorative names as “Redskins,” the name of the football team located in our nation’s capital. “Redskins” is a word that should remind everyone that there was a time in our history when bounties were paid for other human beings; along with coonskins and bearskins, the selling of redskins was also profitable. (Buchbaum, 13) If we are to move towards an understanding and respect for Native Americans, we must become a receptive audience to their protests so that we can understand why, for Native Americans, it is sacrilegious for fans to wear a full headdress and war paint, to use a tomahawk chop, or mock an Indian chant.
Native Americans are the only people to confront racist epitaphs without recourse. We no longer permit the Frito Bandito or the Little Black Sambo because the Hispanic and African-American communities protested that they were inappropriate and discriminatory. Unfortunately, the Indians are still at the “Aunt Jemima” and “Stepin Fetchit” stage when we as a nation had appeared to be moving towards the removal of all hateful racist stereotypes (Fletcher, 2).
Because of their weak economic and political voice, and the failure of our education system also to reflect the history of the “losers,” the movement to change Indian mascots and logos will be unsuccessful. Unfortunately, Native Americans, year after year, will have to continue to deal with American baseball fans saying that the Indians stink, or the Braves are pathetic. It is within this context that I suggest that in order to be completely fair on the issue of naming professional sports franchises, each sports team in a city should be named after the largest ethnic population in that area. For example, New York has large Jewish and Italian populations, so instead of the New York Mets there would by the New York Rabbis, and instead of the New York Yankees there would be the New York Paizzanos. The Chicago Cubs could be called the Chicago Poles, and the Los Angeles Dodgers would be named the Los Angeles Africans. Since so many people maintain that they feel indifferent to having a sports team named after their ethnic or religious group, these labels should not present a problem. If Chicago beats Los Angeles in a playoff game, then there could be a headline that read: “Africans beat Poles” (Royko, 3). Continuous bombardment of such headlines would undoubtedly give rise to serious ethnic and racial conflict. After a few years of mascots dressed as rabbis or priests and logos of bagels and spaghetti, would American society still wonder why Native Americans are so upset when they look at a newspaper that reads “Yankees crushed Indians”?
Buchbaum, Herbert. “Mascots” Scholastic, (February 10,1995).
Fletcher, Michael A. “Crazy Horse Again Sounds Battle Cry” Washington Post, Section A (February 18, 1997).
Reddick, Tracie. “Indian Mascot Debate Brewing,” The Tampa Tribune, Section Metro (September 15, 1997).
Royko, Mike. Chicago Tribune, Section 1 (March 17,1989).
Wright, Ronald. Stolen Continents. Houghton Muffin Company, New York, March 1992.