Why Are Indigenous Mascots Still a Thing?

By: Siobhan Chachere ’19

It’s the day of the big game, and fans are getting ready to support their team. In most cases this is a fun activity that promotes team-spirit. However, for the fans of the Washington Red Skins or the Cleveland Indians, this is an ugly, racist sight that often includes make-shift headdresses and what is essentially red-face.

While the people participating in this misguided form of community spirit deserve no excuses, most of the blame should be placed in the hands of those who allow mascots depicting indigenous people to represent teams in professional leagues.

As an African American, I have plenty of experience dealing with negative representation. Logos that encourage the discrimination of a disenfranchised population should not be allowed under any circumstance.

According to Varsity Mascot Camp, the purpose of a mascot is, “to symbolize community spirit used to enhance the tradition and emotions of its audience through exaggeration, characterization, and entertainment.”

Exaggeration, characterization, and entertainment are not descriptors that should be used to represent an entire population of people; that’s called racism. But this is exactly what is depicted on the mascots and logos for the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians. Both of which include a person with red skin, exaggerated cheekbones, and feathered headdresses.

To put the racism of these mascots into perspective, Bomani Jones, ESPN sports journalist, created a parody shirt that represented the “Caucasians”. The logo paralleled the Cleveland Indian’s Chief Wahoo, and included a white man with a dollar sign above his head instead of the feathers sported by Wahoo.

These representations are similar with respect to the stereotypes they showcase, but the reactions were very different. ESPN would not allow Jones to show his shirt on camera because they deemed it to be offensive, causing him to wear a jacket. And while many fans stormed twitter to ask Jones where they could buy these shirts for themselves, most used the app to express their disgust at Jones, calling him racist.

This displays the hypocrisy of fans and the ESPN. How is it okay to represent professional teams with stereotypical indigenous mascots, but offensive to wear a fake mascot highlighting the stereotypes of Caucasians? Answer: it’s not.

The central arguments for why the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins keep their mascots are tradition and income. These have been the mascots people have associated with for decades; changing it could impact the team’s relationship with fans. Not to mention the money that would have to be spent to change everything from jerseys and helmets, to merchandise.

While the NFL and the MLB are leagues that function through profit, and changing the logo could impact the teams’ incomes, mascots have been changed many times throughout these leagues’ histories.

When mascots offend an entire population of people, they should not be allowed in professional leagues. And there is evidence that these mascots do offend indigenous people. Worse; they impact their self-esteem.

A report commissioned by the Oneida Indian Nation provided proof of how adolescents and young adults experienced lower self-esteem and mood when faced with the logo of the Washington Redskins; a team that uses a racial slur as a title.

When the mascot was discriminating against people of Caucasian descent, outrage was expressed across the board. If fans began sporting blonde hair, button-up shirts, and bags of fake money to show support for their team, wouldn’t we call it racist? Why is this not the case for the Cleveland Indians or the Washington Redskins?

Categories: Other

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