Wick Communications

The mascot problem

In Ethics on April 8, 2011 at 8:08 am

What do you make of this headline:

Rams massacre Mohawks

The lede says that the Shelbyville nine went to Morrisonville “for a scalping,” beating the host Mohawks by 12 runs.

It’s pretty standard sportswriting hyperbole and the usual lazy play-off-the-mascot adjective stuff. It may also be insensitive to Native Americans.

The story blew up on the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors listserv this week. One editor thought the imagery sickening, given the way Indians have been treated in this country. Many others thought referring to Mohawk massacres and such as less than desirable. And a few wrote that it much ado about nothing.

Count me in the second camp, but empathetic to those who really hate it.

I remember covering the Atlanta Braves in the World Series in the 1990s and there would always be a couple of Native Americans outside, protesting the use of their culture to sell stuff for Major League Baseball. I always admired their courage to defend their heritage and continue to think they are right. …

Take a look at the Cleveland Indians mascot — Chief Wahoo — and try not to see the stereotypical drunken Indian. How is it we can call an NFL team “the Redskins” and feel good about it? Could you replace red with any other color of skin and not cause a riot? I think Native Americans simply lack the political clout to change these things and we’ve all grown insensitive to it.

I’ve actually written about the mascot problem before.

I was interested enough in the issue of insensitive mascots to research what Stanford did to change its mascot from “Indians” to “Cardinal.” In 1972, university ombudsman Lois Armstrong, after getting a petition calling for the change from the school’s Native American community, wrote:

“Stanford’s continued use of the Indian symbol in the 1970s brings up to visibility a painful lack of sensitivity and awareness on the part of the University.  All of us have in some way, by action or inaction, accepted and supported the use of the Indian symbol on campus.  We did not do so with malice, or with intent to defile a racial group.  Rather, it was a reflection of our society’s retarded understanding, dulled perception and clouded vision.  Sensitivity and awareness do not come easily when childish misrepresentations in games, history books and motion pictures make up a large part of our experience.”

Well said, Lois. Her opinion helped convince the school to make the change.

Obviously, we can’t control the mascots used at area schools (though we can certainly editorialize for change.) But we can end the use of violent imagery associated with Indian mascots.

Anyway, it’s something to think about.

Clay

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