By Ken Reed
Why is this so hard?
In the year 2021, why do some sports organizations still insist on using Native American names, mascots, caricatures, rituals, etc., to promote their team? And in the case of Atlanta’s baseball team, why do they continue to encourage fans to do the “tomahawk chop” by turning the lights out, and blasting a drum beat for fans to chant to while doing the tomahawk chop motion with the flashlights on their phones?
There are certainly bigger issues in our country than the use of Native American nicknames and mascots by sports teams. In particular, Native Americans are dealing with high rates of poverty, crime and unemployment. But those are multi-faceted issues lacking simple solutions. Changing sports team names and mascots is relatively easy by comparison. Yes, going against tradition will upset some fans, but it will also make it easier for other fans to cheer for their local team.
There are many negative ramifications from the continued use of Native American nicknames and mascots in sports. The American Sociological Association has long called for the end of all Native American team nicknames, logos and other symbols.
“Sociologists and scholars from allied social and behavioral science fields (e.g. anthropology and psychology) have conducted research on the topic of Native American sports nicknames and logos,” according to the association in a letter to Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. “The findings from these studies are clear: these nicknames and logos involve stereotypes that harm Native Americans.”
The authors of a study published in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology concluded that “American Indian mascots are harmful because they remind American Indians of the limited ways others see them and, in this way, constrain how they can see themselves.”
But this isn’t just a bunch of academics claiming harm for Native Americans. Ryan Helsley, a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, and a member of the Cherokee Nation, said:
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general. Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren’t intellectual. They are a lot more than that. It’s about the misconception of us, the Native Americans, and it devalues us and how we’re perceived in that way … There have been schools who in the past 20, 30 years have changed their mascots. I don’t see why professional teams are so far behind on that.”
Not all of them are. The Cleveland baseball team has changed its name from the Indians to the Guardians and has dropped their cartoonish mascot, Chief Wahoo. The NFL’s Washington franchise has dropped its racist nickname. But Atlanta’s baseball team continues on this demeaning path.
And what’s sad is that Manfred is okay with it, which is strange since he previously pushed Cleveland to change its Native American nickname and mascot.
“I think it’s important to understand that we have 30 markets in the country,” said Manfred before Game One of the World Series. “Not all are the same. The Braves have done a phenomenal job with the Native American community. … For me, that’s kind of the end of the story.”
Well, it most definitely isn’t the end of the story. Eventually, society will progress to the point where it won’t make any ethical or financial sense for Atlanta to keep its nickname and tomahawk chop ritual. But why delay the inevitable?
Just do the right thing now. It’s truly not that hard.
Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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