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The Harm of Native American Team Names

Jessica Vieira | Opinion Editor

TW: mention of MMIW, Native American boarding schools, & colonialization

My grandpa was a huge fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, so, my family was thrilled when they won their third Super Bowl last night. The first win of theirs was in 1970, but the usage of Native American names and mascots has been around for at least 90 years. One of the first being the Washington Redskins, This name that was used as a derogatory slur towards Native Americans and has faced much well-deserved backlash for years. In 2022, the team re-named themselves the Washington Commanders.

George Preston Marshall, a known racist, owned the Redskins, formerly known as The Boston Braves, which is another Native American-derived name. He advocated for segregation, and refused to sign any players but white players for years until around the 60’s. Now the team has not only changed their name, but has separated completely from the Marshall name, creating a new beginning for themselves.

This is a step in the right direction for National Football League teams, many minor league teams have begun to follow their example, but it is a pretty small step in repairing the damage that these caricatures help to spread in the grand scheme of things. As of November of last year, there were 2,000 schools using Native American derived names. It’s not just football, either. Including the NFL teams, at least 32 pro sport teams use these offensive names and mascots. Pro Basketball and Baseball teams use these names as well.

What using a culture that has been hated and persecuted for centuries for their perceived ‘savageness’ and uncivilized ways to quite literally represent a violent sport is so harmful for the community. We as a society have to move on from representing such outdated ideas for the sake of “heritage” and “tradition.” Imagine being so far removed from the real world that your idea of heritage and tradition is literally being proud of your ancestors stealing another community’s actual heritage and traditions.

What normalizing hate for Native American people in the modern world does is it continues the persecution that they have been facing since colonialism. Indigenous women are kidnapped, trafficked, and murdered more often than women in any other community. Native children up until the 70s were shipped off to boarding schools and never returned. The hate crimes against Native people are seemingly never-ending, and these sports teams that refuse to change their problematic names are continuing a racist trend that has been harming millions of people for years.

Capitalizing off of caricatures of Native American culture while the imagery actively harms the Native community is modern colonialism, and it needs to be fixed. It is big corporations' moral responsibility to set good examples and take intentional action against further harming the Native American Community, as they have millions of viewers worldwide. With that big an audience, not making good on past bad choices is disgusting. It's time for these teams to take responsibility for the pain they’ve contributed to and the stereotypes they’ve helped to spread for years.


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