NFL team rebranded Washington Football Team in response to cultural appropriation

By Raymond Ranbhise

On July 23, the Washington R*dskins finally put an end to decades of cultural appropriation, retiring their racially insensitive team name and mascot, and changing it to the Washington Football Team. The Football Team will be a temporary name until they can decide on a new mascot.

The R*dskins name and logo was a controversial one, as the term “r*dskin” is an outdated and racially insensitive nickname given to Native Americans. Though the term underwent perjoration hundreds of years ago, it remained in use as a team name in the NFL, until this year.

A 2020 poll by researchers at the University of Michigan and UC Berkeley concluded that 49% of Native Americans found the name offensive. In an Epitaph poll, 87% of students who answered reported that they support the name change. 

But this name change is just the beginning, as changes to traditions within American sports still have a long way to go. Many football teams, in fact, still use Native Americans as mascots, which is the very definition of cultural appropriation — the inappropriate adoption of customs or practices of one society by members of a more dominant society.

The Washington R*dskins finally changed their name to the Washington Football Team this year, after years of criticism regarding the cultural appropriation of their former name. (Photo by courtesy of Washington Football)

 

The Kansas City Chiefs, are another example of cultural appropriation in the NFL. In college football, there are the Florida State Seminoles, and the Utah Utes. And teams in other sports have Native American mascots, such as the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians in baseball and the Chicago Blackhawks in hockey. 

Another team with a controversial name and mascot are the Cleveland Indians, which used the image of Chief Wahoo as their mascot until 2018. The controversial logo featured a cartoonish caricature of a Native American, who was given the name “Chief Wahoo,” after a character from a popular newspaper comic strip, in 1947, according to Belt Magazine. 

And in July of this year, approaching the announcement of the Washington Football Team’s name change, Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters at Cleveland.com he felt it was time to discuss a name change for the team.

According to the New York Times, the Atlanta Braves have also faced controversy over their name. From 1966 to 1985, the mascot was a character created by the franchise called Chief-Noc-A-Homa and was played by an actor on the field during games.

In 1991, Braves fans adopted the Tomahawk Chop, “a rhythmic extension and contraction of the forearm, with the palm open, to mimic the action of chopping,” according to Slate.com, which is still used to this day. This gesture continues to be controversial, as according to Slate.com, the tomahawk was actually considered sacred to Native Americans, and there is no evidence the gesture was ever actually used by Native Americans when holding a tomahawk. 

In the same year, foam Tomahawks were created and sold at games, drawing criticism from many Native American groups who said the props were demeaning and offensive. Then, during winter of 2013, the Braves came under fire for using the image of a screaming Native American as the logo on their spring training hats.

The NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks also have a Native American name, but they chose their name for different reasons. According to thehockeywriters.com, the Blackhawks were named after the 86th infantry division, in which the team’s founder served during World War 1. 

The division was nicknamed the Black Hawk division because of the Native American Chief Black Hawk, who was the leader of the Sauk tribe, which sided with the British in the War of 1812. Many argue that the name honors a Native American hero and, despite the cultural appropriation, brings less controversy than other sports teams using Native American people as mascots.

American pro sports teams have a long history of using Native Americans as mascots. While some, like the Blackhawks or the Braves, are meant to honor Native Americans others are blatantly disrespectful.

Several sports teams have made positive progress toward eliminating the use of Native Americans as mascots. In our own district, the Fremont Firebirds, formerly known as the Fremont Indians, changed their name in 1996, after a group approached the district about the disrespectful use of a term relating to a group of people as a mascot, according to the FHS website

Less locally, in 2019, the Cleveland Indians kept their name, but changed their logo from Chief Wahoo to a big red C.

While there are still many professional, collegiate and even high school sports teams that use Native Americans as mascots, the Washington Football Team has set forth a precedent of racial sensitivity and the dumping of cultural appropriation that — one can only hope — other teams will soon follow.

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