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POLL: Is it OK for sports teams to use Native American names?

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The Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins, Chicago Blackhawks … many professional sports teams are named after Native Americans in some form or another.

Most of these franchises have faced protests and requests from the public to stop using the Native American names and mascots, saying they are offensive and inappropriate.

Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indians mascot. This neon sign is on display at the Western Reserve Historical Society. Photo by David Yonke/Toledo Faith & Values
Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indians mascot. This neon sign once rotated above Cleveland Municipal Stadium and is now on display at the Western Reserve Historical Society. Photo by David Yonke/Toledo Faith & Values

Supporters say the names pay honor to Native Americans, and the team names have a rich heritage and have been endorsed by some Native Americans.

One team now facing strong pressure to change its name is the Washington Redskins. The owner, Dan Snyder, wrote a letter this week saying, among other things, that he considers the team name to be “a badge of honor,” that the team has been in existence for 81 years, and that the original Boston Redskins had four players and a coach who were Native American.

Ray Halbritter, a leader of the Onedia Indian Nation, strongly disagrees. “Washington’s team name is a painful epitaph that was used against my people, Indian people, when we were held at gunpoint and thrown off our lands,” Halbritter said.

President Barack Obama voiced his opinion on the Redskins, saying that if he owned the team and the name offended many people, “I’d think about changing it.”

What do you say? Do you think names and mascots with Native American names and images are acceptable or not for sports teams?

David Yonke

About David Yonke

David Yonke is the editor and community manager of ToledoFAVS. A veteran reporter, editor, and author, his name is familiar name to many area readers for his many years at The Blade newspaper including the last 12 years as religion editor.

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4 comments

  1. Perhaps another response to the poll could be: “Yes, but I do not think they honor Native Americans.”

    I would be curious to see why people think some Native American sports names are okay, but others are not. What specifically constitutes appropriateness?

  2. Tracy Simmons

    Thanks for your response John! I too would be curious what others would have to say in response to the question your raise.

  3. Jim Downard

    By the time football teams started adopting Indian monikers the actual Native Americans were shunted aside into a mythological limbo of caricature, the Noble Savage who conveniently no longer lived next door, and the only sense I can see in which the names were “honoring” the Indians would be in this flawed sense. Time plays a role in how things are seen, certaintly.

    A Viking would be a frightening thing to imagine if you were a 9th century Brit seeing the rampaging longboats arriving on the horizon, but distill the concept over a thousand years, when Scandinavians are known for advanced social welfare states and exceptionally safe cars, and a Viking becomes a cliche image like witches on broomsticks (which I suppose could be annoying for some current Wiccan practitioners, while we’re about it).

    Our own nation’s history has not steeped nearly long enough to have worn away the creepy edges of “redskins” and such, so the appropriate approach as I see it is: if it sounds offensive to many of the people to which it is ostensibly referring, then it is time to nip it, never mind how many logo t-shirts and mugs have been printed up.

  4. John & Tracy: I voted “Some are OK, others are not” because the answer to the question of appropriateness should be left to the Native Americans being identified in the team names. Some tribes see this as a genuine honor, others are deeply offended. Either way, they are the ones who should have the ultimate say-so on this matter. The very last folks who ought to be deciding this are those of us of European ancestry. (This reminds me a little bit of a room full of men debating abortion.)

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