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The Controversy in Using Native American Mascots in Sports

The Native American image has always been romanticized and admired for its heroism and bravery. Many see the use of their image as warriors and braves in American sports mascots as a way to pay homage to Native Americans, but many would also say that these mascots demean their Native traditions and rituals.

This opposition to mascots that portray Native Americans in a negative light began as a campaign in the 1960s by a group called the National Congress of American Indians. They strongly believe that sports teams using mascots with names like the Braves and Redskins only serve as negative stereotypes of their people. They claim that fans wearing war paint, chicken feather headdresses and waving rubber tomahawks are offensive, demeaning and racist.

Those who disagree point out that team names like Warriors and Braves represent male fighters just like those from other cultures. It is not unlike the use of team names such as Vikings, Minutemen or Musketeers. Nicknames like Fighting Irish, Flying Dutchmen, Trojans and Spartans (to name a few) are not considered offensive, so the use of Native American nicknames should not be construed as having racist or degrading.

There seems to be a disconnect between Indian activists opposed to Indian team names and mascots and the Native American population who are not. More than ninety percent of American Indians and the majority of American sports fans surveyed find the names and mascots acceptable.

Some college teams decided to make changes out of respect for Native American culture. The use of these racial mascots on elementary, middle, and high school sports teams has become a concern. It is claimed that young people are not taught to respect certain ethnic groups and that these stereotypes will only promote racism. The lack of sports mascots based on African, Asian and Mexican Americans only bolsters claims by opposition groups that Native Americans are being targeted.

Proponents of the use of Native American mascots insist that they are meant to be respectful and serve only to pay homage to the Indian people. Far from being derogatory, these mascots are considered ideal for sports teams as they emphasize bravery, courage and fighting skills.

But there is also a financial impact and a cost to consider. Changing team names and mascots would affect merchandise that generates millions of dollars in sales each year. Opponents don’t care about the negative financial cost to team franchises. All they want is a change in the way Americans view real Indian culture and traditions. They believe this change will replace the trivialized way they are viewed and hopefully erase the racial stereotypes they feel they have had to endure for far too long.

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