Professional sports begin to take steps away from use of inappropriate Native American names, logos

Cleveland Indians
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My name is Kiana Thelma, and the 11 letters that make up my name represent who I am as a whole: a person with Filipino heritage, a love for sports and a secret stan Twitter account for Rihanna.

When people give one another names, it is used as a way of identification and indicating familiarity. However, when people begin to use names as a way of directly targeting another person or group to undermine, humiliate, mock or insult them, it is not only inappropriate, but also morally wrong.

As the United States more directly confronts its problems with racism, many campaigns have started to gain attention and momentum. The fight for a more inclusive, accepting and respectful environment for the Black community and other communities of color is being led by the voices of local advocates and political officials alike. One example of such cultural shifts is the push for professional sports teams to retire their use of Native American names, mascots or logos.

For many years, Native American leaders have criticized the world of sports for using their culture in a disrespectful way. From having mascots of racist caricatures to basing team names on ethnic slurs or stereotypes, many are finally becoming more aware of the disrespect associated with the misuse of Native American culture.

The long-overdue conversation finally gained traction Friday, when the NFL’s Washington Redskins announced that they “will undergo a thorough review of the team’s name” following a statement from FedEx, a major sponsor of the team that holds the naming rights for its stadium as well, the day before.

“We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name,” FedEx said in its statement.

FedEx released its statement in response to mounting pressure from 87 investment firms and shareholders affiliated with the Redskins, who threatened to sack their deals if the team’s name is not changed. These organizations sent three separate letters to the CEOs of Nike, PepsiCo and FedEx — all shareholders in the team — calling on each of them to “terminate its business and public relationships” with the franchise because of the negative connotations associated with its name.

With news of the team’s name being reevaluated, retailers such as Target, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods pulled Redskins merchandise from their online stores. As of Monday, links to the Washington Redskins apparel on these companies’ websites did not return results.

Efforts to change the Redskins’ derogatory name can be dated as far back as 1971. Though the team’s owner, Dan Snyder, has been adamant about not changing the name, Native American groups have consistently pushed the team for change through lawsuits and protests. Only the recent racial reckoning across the country has brought the real possibility for Native Americans to see the change they have long waited for.

Many fans of the franchise have expressed their opinions on social media, including Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who is in favor of the change and even backed the replacement name Red Tails via Twitter. The name would honor the nickname of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of Black and Caribbean-born fighter pilots who were part of the U.S. Army during World War II.

Some, however, such as President Donald Trump, do not agree with these revisions in the sports world and are opposed to such movements. On Twitter, he criticized teams with names alluding to Native American culture for considering changes and accused them of “trying to be politically correct.”

It’s not only Washington that is making moves to reexamine its name, however. Other sports teams that echo the same degrading sentiment, such as the MLB’s Cleveland Indians, are moving toward denouncing their use of Native American-related images, names or symbols that are seen as offensive.

Terry Francona, Cleveland’s manager, told reporters Sunday that he thinks it’s time to change the team’s name.

“I know in the past, when I’ve been asked about, whether it’s our name or the Chief Wahoo, I think I would usually answer and say I know that we’re never trying to be disrespectful. And I still feel that way,” Francona said to CNN. “But I don’t think that’s a good enough answer today. I think it’s time to move forward. It’s a very difficult subject. It’s also delicate.”

After the 2018 season, the team removed its “Chief Wahoo” logo, a racist caricature of a Native American character, from their uniforms.

While its early origins are unclear and its reconsiderations a little late, Cleveland is making promising strides to respect Native American culture, just in the same way Washington is.

Other teams that must follow suit are the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Florida State Seminoles and the Utah Utes.

Amid this nationwide movement of erasing racially insensitive symbols, if something as simple as changing a name brand brings more love, peace and positivity to others and society, there’s hardly a reason as to why it shouldn’t be altered.

There is a fine line between a nickname and a racial slur, and imitating a culture that has endured many great hardships and sufferings at the hands of colonialism certainly falls under the latter. While the nation seems to be taking steps toward being a more accepting and culturally sensitive environment, always remember that while sticks and stones may break someone’s bones, words and name-calling do as well — just not in the way you think.

Kiana Thelma Devera writes for Bear Bytes. Contact her at [email protected].