It is great to see professional sports teams taking a stand for greater equality in America.
The Washington Redskins, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Blackhawks, for example, participated in Blackout Tuesday on social media earlier this month. The effort, which arose after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, became a way for millions to show support for criminal justice reform, racial equality and conversations about the complex issues of race and justice in general.
We, along with lots of others, appreciate the intentions and support from these and other teams. But, if these teams really want to show that they are listening and are sensitive to issues of race and discrimination, they need to change their team names and logos. Now.
The Chicago Blackhawks hockey team said they were “taking this time to listen and learn.” Yet, the team logo is a Native American man wearing face paint and feathers.
The Cleveland Indians baseball team said they were “committed to making a difference” and acknowledged their “imperfect history.” The team has removed “Chief Wahoo” from their uniforms and much of their merchandise, but retains the offensive name.
It is hard to take seriously an organization that claims to “fervently stand in opposition to any and all discriminatory acts, racism and injustice,” as baseball’s Atlanta Braves tweeted, yet continues to bear a name and mascot that are offensive to many Native Americans.
Likewise for the Redskins, which, for years, have been asked by Indigenous Americans and others to change their offensive team name. The team was the last in the NFL to integrate, in 1962, and only did so after the U.S. Secretary of the Interior threatened to evict the team from their then-Washington, D.C. stadium, which was on land leased from the U.S. government. A monument to former team owner George Preston Marshall was removed from the team’s former stadium last week by the city’s convention and sports authority.
If these teams need a model to follow, they can look to Maine.
Progress was slow, but the state was at the forefront of changing offensive team names and mascots. Last year, Maine became the first state to ban Native American mascots at all public schools.
The legislation came amid a long-time debate in Skowhegan over changing the mascot and team names at the town’s high school. The school board voted to end the Indian name in March 2019. With the vote, Maine became the first state in the nation where all schools had stopped using Native American mascots and imagery, according to the Maine ACLU. More than 30 schools, including Husson University, Old Town High School and schools in Sanford and Scarborough, have changed team names and mascots over the years.
“You know in a way it feels odd to be asking the Legislature to ban offensive nicknames when this is 2019 where no other race is used in such a disrespectful manner. No teams are named the Blacks, The Jews, because it’s wrong to do so,” Penobscot elder and former chief Barry Dana told the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee last March. “We as a nation should have never used my people as mascots. But, pro teams do it so school teams follow suit. It’s not right.”
“Sorry, mascots and Indian nicknames honor no one. They are offensive,” he added.
That message applies to professional teams as well. In this instance, those teams should follow the lead of Maine schools and end the use of offensive names and mascots. Now.