NPR Story
3:04 pm
Thu February 7, 2013

Sports Fans Hold On To Native American Mascots

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Sports writers, scholars, representatives from Indian nations and the NCAA got together in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to talk about Native American stereotypes in sports, and recent efforts to retire and revive the mascot names.

Since the debate began in the 1960s, two-thirds of Native American references -- like the Braves and the Redskins -- have been changed. But many professional and school sports teams continue to hold on to their Native American names and rituals.

"Part of this dilemma in challenging them stems from the fact that we have these powerful institutional authorities that are giving full permission to engage in casual racism," said Ellen Staurowsky, a sports management professor at Drexel University.

Staurowsky points to a current ritual at Florida State University where a white student dresses as Seminole Chief Osceola, rides a horse and throws a spear onto the football field before every home game. Even though the tradition has been officially sanctioned by the Seminole Tribe, opponents say it demeans their native traditions and rituals.

Former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell says the term "redskins" refers back to a time when there was a bounty on the heads of Indian people. Trappers would bring in Indian scalps along with other animal skins to trading posts.

Stanford, Dartmouth and other schools have changed their mascots. But not without protest from alumnae. Richard King is the co-editor of Team Spirits and Native Athletes in Sport and Society.

"I mean it’s part of their identity," King said. "It’s part of their life experience. It’s not just simply let’s choose a new mascot. It’s a whole set of other things that are entangled with who they are."

The discussion at Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian advances a movement endorsed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2001.

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