The NCAA has struck decisively on this issue, forcing schools with such nicknames and/or mascots to retire them, get approval from local tribes, or risk not being allowed to host NCAA-sanctioned championship events.
As a result, a team with an 80-year tradition is now forced to forge a new identity. The University of North Dakota will be changing its longstanding nickname and logo by August of 2010 after a vote of the state's Board of Higher Education last week.
Pro sports leagues have not issued mandates, and they don't appear to have that intention anytime soon.
Longtime NFL writer Michael Silver sees a problem. He feels it's time for the Washington Redskins to take their branding in a different direction. He feels the term "Redskins" is derogatory, and as our society has evolved over the years, the name just doesn't fit a pro sports franchise anymore.
You can spare me the protestations about how the name is actually a tribute to Native Americans, or how other allegedly similar groups (Vikings? Really?) are also consigned to mascot status. You can skip the talk about the importance of the team name to its fans or the tradition that would be compromised were it to be changed.Full disclosure: I'm part Native American. However, I'm not here to push my views or my values as being representative of anyone but myself. I fully acknowledge that many Native Americans and non-Native Americans want to completely do away with nicknames of this type, and I can't say I agree with them.
I'm not hearing it, because if I close my eyes and think about where we are as a society and the fact that this name still exists, it's a complete travesty on both visceral and logical levels.
There have been protests of Native American nicknames held at sporting events where the majority of attendees were white. Does that make the issue any less worthy of discussion? No, but it does give you some understanding of it.
Sports Illustrated published an interesting survey in 2002. In it, they asked Native Americans living both on and off reservations what they thought of nicknames or mascots that used Native American imagery. The results were very surprising for most. The majority of Native Americans involved in the survey just didn't see a huge problem. Numbers typically around 10-to-15 percent were opposed to the use of such nicknames, but a large portion of them either had no problem with it or didn't care either way. This was even the case when the survey asked about the Washington Redskins, a team name with a lot of history, but one derived from a word many find derogatory.
A big part of the anti-Redskins argument -- as noted by Silver -- is the often-derogatory connotation of that word.
... it's blatantly offensive, and don't bother trotting out the examples of certain Native Americans who regard it as a sign of great respect. The fact that even a handful of them were upset enough to sue to stop the name from existing, a legal fight that has gone on for 17 years and counting, should be enough to let decency prevail.To be fair, one has to feel confident that there would be a "handful" of people of Irish descent offended by Notre Dame's choice of a nickname. Were someone to organize them and start a legal fight, would Silver support such an endeavor?
Some would try to argue that, if even one person were offended by these names, they should just go away. However, you'd have to take with you "Vikings," "Canucks," "Yankees," and many others that are terms used to describe groups of people.
Of course, once that happens, the cynic would say PETA jumps on board, and with the majority of remaining sports teams named after animals, it would be a bad thing if it got rolling on this topic.
In the end, it's not really worth the fight. Is the term "Redskins" derogatory? You can make that argument, but you can also make it about "Sioux," a term the NCAA is attempting to eradicate in its teams, an actual name given to Indian tribes. It must not be considered derogatory for everyone.
That's a huge part of the problem. Another part of it is that people with political motivations are taking a stance on this issue. There was no reason for the situation in North Dakota to escalate this far, and a big reason why it did was a 2005 editorial penned by NCAA head honcho Myles Brand. In this piece, Brand argued the NCAA was "correctly positioned as a catalyst for social change."
In the days after the NCAA Executive Committee made its decision concerning Native American mascots and imagery, critics proclaimed that the NCAA should stick with purely athletics matters and stay out of social affairs. I disagree.No, Myles. The NCAA isn't a catalyst for anything. It's a sports organization. Do sports play an important role in our society? Yes, but it should never be so important as to attempt to lead social change. When social change comes as a result of sports, it can be a good thing. It's not a good thing when an organization sets out to create such change where that change isn't widely desired.
Intercollegiate athletics is very much a part of the social fabric of this country, and the NCAA should never shy from taking public positions that reflect the Association's and higher education's core values and principles.
With Brand leading the way, the NCAA has practically forced selected schools to do away with years of tradition with regard to their choices for nicknames and mascots.
I have yet to see a single case in sports where my sensibilities were offended by how a team branded itself. Whether it's the Redskins, Blackhawks, Fighting Sioux, Indians, Braves, Seminoles, Chippewas, Illini, or anyone I didn't mention, these teams, schools, and organizations have represented themselves and the Native American community with honor and dignity. They don't abuse their nicknames or imagery, and they are -- in most cases -- teams who have built great traditions with their current names and logos.
Were a large, organized, vocal group of Native Americans to someday launch a serious effort to rid the sports world of these names, this argument would likely have to change. It simply wouldn't be worth the prolonged fight for the team or school. However, don't bet on this happening. Too many Native Americans look upon the use of these nicknames with either honor or apathy. As long as that is the case, and as long as the teams using such nicknames treat them and the traditions behind them respectfully, sweeping changes will remain highly unlikely.