In July of 2015, the U.S. District Court in Alexandria,VA upheld United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) decision to cancel the Washington Redskins trademark registrations. The USPTO voted to cancel the trademark because it was “disparaging to Native Americans.” The NFL team’s owner has vowed never to change the name, insisting that it doesn’t disparage but rather honors Native Americans. It’s hard to believe this is possible when one of the believed origins of the term refers to Native American scalps sold for a bounty.
Over the last year the issue of Native American mascot appropriation has somewhat drifted from the collective conscience. However progress is still being made.
- In April of 2014, the Houston Independent School District in Houston, Texas decided to replace four mascots that were deemed culturally offensive. The Lamar High School Redskins became the Texans, the Welch Middle School Warriors became the Wolf Pack, and the Westbury High School Rebels and the Hamilton Middle School Indians both became the Huskies.
- In August, the leaders of a South Dakota Native American tribe voted to reject a $25,000 check from the Washington Redskins and all future money that might be offered by the team or other affiliated organizations. Ryman Lebeau, a member of the council, posted the news on his Facebook along with a photo of the check captioned “Sold our souls.. Price was cheap.”
- On September 10th, the California State Assembly passed a bill banning the use of Redskins as a mascot in public schools. The bill is awaiting approval from Governor Jerry Brown. Instead of a top down change that would’ve started with the NFL team, the highest-profile use of the mascot, it seems as though momentum will have to build from the bottom for enough pressure to be applied to the team.
The changes made in the Houston Independent School District prove that it’s not just the Redskins mascot that should be called into question. It’s any mascot that pigeon-holes Native Americans as a fringe culture. Being that Native Americans have been a marginalized people, to represent them with caricatures with head dresses and war paint only advances ignorant stereotypes.
Here are a few other professional sports teams who should seriously consider retiring their mascots.
This Major League Baseball team’s logo is known as Chief Wahoo and is a cartoon face of an Native American man complete with a goofy grin and a feather.
Although the longtime mascot Chief Noc-A-Homa (a play on knock a homer) was retired in 1986, the team name still remains and fans still perform the “tomahawk chop” complete with imitation war chant.
Kansas City Chiefs
This NFL team’s fans also performs the “tomahawk chop” and has an opening ceremony featuring a large drum.
The Redskins are getting the majority of the attention paid to this issue because their name is considered a slur by many and their team happens to share a home with The U.S. Capitol. However, the efforts shouldn’t stop there. It’s not up to the teams to decide if their names are honoring the people depicted by their mascots or if their appropriation is offensive. They should listen to the outcry of those they’re supposedly honoring.