Mascot-eers

Kentucky alternate helmet

by Steve Buschbacher

In 1932, a new team entered the NFL in Boston. They were called the Boston Braves – same as the National League baseball that used to play in Boston. They even played their first season in Braves Field. The following year, the team moved to Fenway Park and was renamed the Redskins. In 1937, the team moved from Boston to our nation’s capital and retained the nickname Redskins.

In the late 1930s, it was still acceptable to portray Native Americans in most movies as brutal savages who murdered innocent homesteaders rather than people protecting their homes against invaders. So, given the mindset of the 1930s, one can understand why no one seemed to have a problem with a team named Redskins. Is it an ethnic slur? Of course it is. Did anyone care in the 1930s? Well certainly no fans of NFL football cared. College football still reigned supreme over the fall sports landscape. Everyone knew what a Redskin was and they just accepted it. It is now 80 years later and we still have an NFL team in our country’s (land of the free … remember?) capital city whose mascot name is insulting to a group of people. The people whose land was stolen from them.

But the group of people that are being insulted are not white so what does the NFL care? Do you think that you would hear righteous indignation if someone seriously suggested that the Tennessee team be changed to the White Trash? “Reverse Racism! Reverse Racism!” would echo from every corner of Fox News and Brietbart. You can’t insult white people, you see. You can only deal with their refusal to right an 80 year old wrong.

Supporters of the Redskins name will point to a study that purports to show that 90% of surveyed Native Americans do not object to the use of that term for the team. Let’s talk a bit about that survey, shall we? Every one of the people surveyed only self-identified as Native American. No attempt was ever made to verify their actual Native American identity or tribal enrollment. 56 percent of those asked said that they were not part of any tribal nation nor could they name what tribe their ancestors might have claimed. Only 15 percent of the respondents were under the age of 29. With the median age of the Native American population in the country being right around 26, one might think that they would have wanted to get more people in the most represented age group. Unless you wanted the survey results to come out only one way, that is.

The Cleveland Indians baseball team may not have a racial slur as their mascot name but they still use a wild looking caricature-like face known derisively as Chief Wahoo as the picture for the mascot. They say that they are slowly phasing out the use of Chief Wahoo. Slowly? Of course, let’s insult an ethnic group in our country a little less every year instead of just stopping the disgusting practice all together.

This is not limited to professional sports team either. In Illinois, the state of my birth, considerable time was spent on whether or not to retire the University of Illinois’ Chief Illiniwek who, dressed in what some people say was authentic Native American dress, danced a wild “war dance” on the basketball court or at the 50 yard line at football games. The team’s mascots are called the Fighting Illini which is supposed to harken back to the Indian tribe from the state of Illinois. In actuality, the Illini or Illiniwek was a confederation of about a dozen tribes none of which were called the “Illini”. Supporters will tell you that the “chief” is a real Illini Indian doing an authentic tribal dance. Sorry, but if there never was a tribe called Illini, how can there be anything attributable to them?

“Let the chief dance” … “It’s not insulting” say the rabid Illinois sports fans. The sports fans who are not Native American, that is. To their credit, the school has stopped the Chief Illiniwek dances.

Want to change it around a bit? Imagine the University of Kentucky is not called the Wildcats but, instead, is called the Hillbillies. Let’s say that, at basketball games and football games, a man with wild, unruly hair and hoary beard wearing ragged jeans with a rope belt and a torn plaid shirt, does a barefoot dance to Turkey In The Straw toting around an earthen ware jug with “XXX” on it. Oh, it’s an authentic moonshiner dance and it’s only meant as a tribute and not as an insult. If Mitch McConnell could piece together more than three sentences on his own, he would call a press conference to play the victim. He might even tear up for us.

We can go overboard being politically correct. No question about that. But we also don’t have to be stupid and insulting as the other end of the pendulum swing.

NFL training camps open soon. My hometown team is the Eagles. They are in the same division as that team from Washington. Whatever they’re called.