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Sports Team Names With Native American References

1872 words - 7 pages

There is considerable controversy that dates back to the 1960’s over sports teams’ names that reference Native American heritage. “The National Congress of American Indiana’s (NCIA) created a campaign in 1968 to eliminate stereotypes found in print and other media.” (ChangeTheMascot.org). The American Indian community has worked for many years to abolish the right to use Native American Names, spiritual and cultural symbols by professional sports teams (Teters) that they feel offensive. The Washington Redskins football team continues to battle a long standing controversy to change their name. Native Americans, politicians, fans of American football, as well as the general public all seem to have opposing viewpoints regarding if this team should be forced to change their name out of respect to those offended.

Research indicates The Redskins name should not be changed as many Native Americans perceive it as a tribute of respect and honor to their people. Changing their name would be both costly and unwarranted to the research that proves that most Native Americans are not offended by the name, but rather feel it is an honor to their people. In a paper published by Ives Goddard of the Smithsonian Institution, Goddard details that the term Redskins was a term that was first used by Native Americans to distinguish themselves from the “white” others encroaching on their lands and culture”, not a racial slur derived from the theory “origins… of presenting bloody red skins and scalps as proof of Indian kill for bounty payments” (Goddard). According to research by J. Gordon Hylton, he found that team owners frequently began using words with indigenous connections in the 1850s. "Native American names appear to have been chosen to emphasize the 'Americanness' of the team and its patriotic character," (Hylton).

Imagine if, in attempt to name a sports team, one had to stay away from any name that could be offensive to someone. There are hundreds of sport team names that derive from ethnic groups of people. How could one possibly find a name that was not offensive to someone? But, within all the controversy of offensive team names, there are many teams that have decided to change their name out of respect to this issue:
1. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign: Retired its Mascot in 2007, but kept its controversial name “the Fighting Illini”.
2. University of Massachusetts Amherst: Changed their name back in 1972 from the Redmen to Minutemen.
3. University of North Dakota: Dropped their name after failing to receive approval from tribes under a NCAA settlement. The team currently does not have a nickname or mascot.
4. Driggs, Idaho high school: Had dropped its longtime “Redskins” nickname out of respect for Native Americans.

Where is the line drawn and who is allowed to draw that line? I do not believe a team name has ever been created to insult or offend the participants, and although I am empathetic to those who are offended, I feel that...

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