The New Jersey Grease-Ball Guinny Mobsters, the South Boston Drunken Micks, the Alabama Slack-Jawed Rednecks and the Washington Redskins.
Relax, they’re just harmless mascots.
The national spotlight that has turned this long-time debate red-hot – the use of American Indians as athletic team mascots – shines on our neighboring university just east of the interstate.
It began when a group of University of Northern Colorado American Indian, Latino and Caucasian students mockingly named their intramural basketball team The Fightin’ Whites, which was quickly turned to The Fightin’ Whities. The teams’ uniforms bore a mascot of a middle-aged, generic-looking white guy in a suit. The back of the shirts read, “Every thang’s gonna to be all white.”
The stunt was in protest of the nearby Eaton High School mascot, the Fightin’ Reds. Several members of the American Indian community in Greeley had been trying to get the school to change their mascot for years, but with little success.
This issue of ethnic mascots is not one of political correctness – for once – it’s a problem of ignorance; ignorance of history, ignorance of respect, ignorance highlighted by the actions of Eaton High School officials.
The term redskin, fittingly embraced as the mascot of the Washington, D.C. – our nation’s capitol – NFL football team, is a racial slur on par with kike, honky, wop and nigger.
Contrary to popular belief, the history of the word does not come from the false labeling of American Indians’ skin as red. Red, or redskin, comes from era of indigenous genocide in the United States. As the country was eager to move west, American Indians were seen as a major obstacle in settlement. The French technique of scalping slain enemies caught on, and white traders would be paid for Indian scalps. A problem arose when people began to use counterfeit animal scalps to fool traders, so the traders began to demand more.
In order to verify the authenticity of an Indian kill, the “coupon” was introduced. The coupon was made by cutting away the skin starting at the back of the neck down to the buttocks. No animal’s hide could pass for human skin, and the bloody coupon became a valuable currency. The bloodstained sheets of skin soon gained the nickname “redskin.”
Do American Indians have the right to be upset about the use of this term as a team mascot?
A group of white school officials claiming the use of Reds is acceptable is as valid as Pat Buchanan declaring he doesn’t find the El Paso Wetbacks’ mascot offensive.
Many will argue that teams such as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Minnesota Vikings and the Providence Friars also portray ethnic groups or religious figures and are no different from the Chiefs, Warriors, Braves or Indians. The difference is in the portrayal of the mascot.
Team logos and mascots stereotyping the big-nosed, war-crying savage are more common than not. Think if Notre Dame’s mascot was a belligerent, brawling, red-faced, drunken leprechaun. Would this cause an outcry from the American public? Would a group of American Indians be given responsibility to judge this mascot’s “tradition in the community” as more important than the dignity of the Irish-Americans shamed by the mascot?
Sports mascots portraying American Indians – or any other ethnic group – in a way that offends members of that group need to be changed, and nobody except these groups can claim to be qualified to make that judgment.
Eaton needs let go of the nostalgia surrounding its Fightin’ Reds, and begin a new tradition of respect.
Zeb’s column appears every Tuesday. He thinks there’s nothing more annoying than Braves fans doing the Tomahawk Chop.