Mascots may be offensive

I look around the Upper Peninsula and I see Native American mascots sprinkled across the land. The Gladstone Braves, Gladstone Indians, the Newberry Indians, the Marquette Redmen, and though it doesn’t quite fall in this category, the Escanaba Eskymos.

We live in an area with a well-represented Native American populace, and I can’t for certain say how they feel about being depicted in that way. I do however know that the MHSAA and the Michigan legislature has discussed the issue of Native American mascots at length and found no cause to take action.

Likewise for the numerous universities around the country that have similar mascots. The Florida State Seminoles with their ‘tomahawk chop,’ the San Diego State Aztecs, the Illinois Illini, the Central Michigan Chippewas.

How about professional teams? The Cleveland Indians have perhaps the most (arguably) offensive mascot in the country. There’s the Atlanta Braves, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors (though the latter two no longer use indigenous imagery.)

Among high schools across the country, some of the most common mascots are ‘Braves’, which is used at least 74 schools, ‘Indians’ (used by over 200 schools around the nation), and of course, ‘Redskins’, which is used by at least 60 schools.

We are a nation fixated on Native American mascots. It’s a history that goes back decades, even centuries. No doubt many of these schools and teams admired the fighting style and warrior prowess that these cultures exhibited in the early days of America, and thought it fitting to name their athletic teams after that memory.

Most of us go our daily lives without giving it a second thought. I cover Escanaba and Gladstone games daily. There’s no one protesting, no letters being written to the city council. It just is.

This brings me to Dan Synder and the Washington Redskins of the National Football League.

Recently, there has been a rather sudden uproar concerning the team Dan Snyder purchased in 1999 for $800 million. The key word here is purchased. Snyder did not name the team, but you wouldn’t know that from talking to people.

The rumblings were relatively quiet at first, a senator here, a smattering of vocal dissidents there. But since the Donald Sterling scandal in the NBA, the rabble has crescendoed, culminating in what happened Thursday.

No less than 50 United States senators wrote a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (who has also spoken out against Snyder) Thursday, saying that racism and bigotry does not belong in professional sports. The letter went on to draw parallels between Snyder and Donald Sterling, saying that the Redskins name is nothing short of a racial slur.

President Obama has also spoken out on record against Snyder in the past saying that if he were an NFL owner, he’d think about changing the name.

For the record, Snyder, on the matter at hand, has told USA Today “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.” He went on to say “I’ve listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name. But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too.”

Is the ‘Redskins’ mascot really offensive to over two million Native Americans as the letter addressed to Goodell claims?

A 2004 Annenberg Public Policy Center poll showed that 90 percent of Native Americans were not offended by the name ‘Redskins.”

In 2014, Snyder formed the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation to provide opportunities and resources to aid Tribal communities.

So let’s get one thing out of the way. Snyder is not Sterling. They shouldn’t even be in the same sentence together.

Is Snyder inherently a racist because he owns the Washington Redskins? I suppose it’s up for debate, but I don’t think so. He’s never personally said anything derogatory toward any ethnic group.

Think about what it would entail for Snyder to change the name of a billion dollar NFL entity.

There’s a mountain of merchandise that could no longer be sold, then the cost of creating a whole new line of merchandise for the new mascot. There’s the logo on the field, on the jersey’s, on the stadium that would all have to be changed.

I know, it’s been done before, professional franchises do change their name from time to time. The difference is, it was the personal decision of the owners of those franchises to do so. It wasn’t forced upon them.

More and more, governing bodies are taking away an organization’s autonomy. A couple years ago the University of North Dakota, which at the time used the mascot ‘Fighting Sioux,’ were told by the NCAA, that if they didn’t change their name, they would not be allowed to participate in the NCAA hockey Tournament. This was based on some of the surrounding tribes in the area not being OK with the team name. The mascot was of course, vacated.

I’m not saying the feelings of those tribes don’t matter, because they do. I can only imagine how insulting it most feel to those who are offended, to see their namesake paraded around every game to cheering masses. But it’s one thing to willfully and intentionally offend and another to passively go along with the status quo.

Yes, when an offense is raised, the right thing to do may be to correct it. It’s something to weigh when you put on those colors and wonder who is being hurt by them. It all just seems a little hypocritical to me.

Why are some indigenous mascots OK and others aren’t? Does it take one offended person to set a whole chain of events in motion? An entire tribe? Why is the U.S. government involved at all?

So is the ‘Redskins’ name offensive? a racial slur? It’s not for me to decide, but for the individuals who it directly affects.

But nonetheless, as a business owner, who inherited the name when he bought the team, it remains Snyder’s decision whether or not to change the name. Even if the whole of the U.S. government may think otherwise.