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Native American Mascots and Nicknames in Sports: The Problem Essay


Distorted representations of American Indian cultures have long been part of popular media in America. In the past twenty years or so there have been concerted attempts by activists and academics to discontinue the usage of American Indian imagery from the professional and amateur sports world or marketplace.

The representations, which are most often-stereotypical depictions of indigenous people, are offensive to both members of the public and, most importantly, the indigenous people themselves. The use of Native American mascots in sports is unjust because it depicts the native people in a stereotypical way and is insensitive to both their race and cultures. An example of this injustice is the “Redskins” mascot. The term “redskins” is offensive to Native Americans and the use of Native American mascots, and nicknames in sports needs to end.

Origin of “Red Skins”

“Redskin” emanates from usage of red color as an imagery and symbol that was used to identify a certain ethnic community during the time of colonization of the western countries by the Europeans. It refers to the Native Americans or the Indians who occupied the lands of America before the coming of European white settlers.

Although the original use of the term “redskin” did not have bad connotations, some people had the feeling, in later years, that the term was derogatory, racist, and it intended to depict Native Americans badly (Staurowsky, 69). Moreover, in most cases the term is associated with offensive situations, taboos, and even disgusting conditions. Indeed, the use of “redskin” is constantly avoided in many public places except in sports.

Initially, Anglo-Americans termed the Native Americans as being brown and light skinned, but this changed in the 18th century. They started identifying the Indians as being of different color from them (Staurowsky, 69). Therefore, the term was initially used in the United States to refer to indigenous Americans. However, currently, the term is specifically used to show racial degradation.

Some consider it offensive, derogatory, and extremely insulting. Indeed, most people currently interpret it as a siege to the American-Indian culture. Historically, “redskin” was probably a reference to the initial group of people who painted their body parts in red. In New York City and particularly New Jersey, the term was first used to refer to someone known as Delaware who was living in the southern part of New York State (Staurowsky, 69).

Problem with the Washington Redskins Mascot

The Washington Redskins is a football team that was founded in 1932. The use of the term Washington Redskins has brought many controversies, with majority of people particularly the Native American groups and the United States government arguing that the term “redskin” should be withdrawn from the name and only Washington Team should be left as the appropriate name (King, “Defensive Dialogues” 10).

They feel that the term is more insulting and provocative, thus it may lead to racial epithet that is disrespectful to the Native Americans. Therefore, most human civil rights activists and academic groups, including educational organizations discourage the use of the term “redskins” claiming that it can lead to racial conflicts if used in inappropriate context.

Although some people argue that the name provides more respect to the Native Americans, the feeling of bad intentions from its use by most people is enough to advocate for its elimination altogether (Staurowsky, 67).

Efforts towards Changing Mascot

Generally, Americans not at the center of this discussion take this as a case of ideological differences. Lack of concern makes the natives to see this as a mass massacre on its culture. They insist that even the judges do not put much attention in cases involving this issue. However, it important to note that even among the Native American society, there is no best way to approach this subject (Staurowsky, 67). Some say that the continued use of the mascots should be patented and benefits given to the community.

Others argue that this is demeaning, derogative and a sign of just how the natives have been at the receiving end historically when it comes to various decisions. Lastly, a group of Native Americans feels that the use of mascots honors them in various ways. They believe that these organizations do not mean harm.

Conclusively, the nature of this discussion is a philosophical gridlock even from the Native American society. The early treaties meant to eradicate conflicts between the two tribes still hold emotive concerns within the general society (Staurowsky, 70).

Why it has not Worked/ How to make it Work

From an organizational look, the usage of a mascot is an identity in itself. The idea is that it brings luck and success. This contrasts the history of native Indians who complain about historical injustices. If the organizations were to use different mascots, they would lose identity and media coverage, which comes with economic gains. The American government should devise ways to arrive at an amicable solution to this festering debacle. Hardliners within the community may get restless and spark conflicts.

Because the judicial avenue has not arrived at a solution, the government should take a hands-on look at the issue. The American society should look at ways to reassure Native Americans. Lastly, an amicable solution may go a long way in creating better racial relations across America. As it currently stands, many minority groups perceive the US government as making historical decisions that are marred in favoritism.

Discomforts of Using Native Americans as Mascots

Following many unsuccessful attempts at redacting usage of these images, some organizations have returned to using the images after stopping because natives had convinced them. This is because of the media coverage whose popularity they want to benefit. On the other hand, there is a group that feels deeply hurt and racially discriminated against by use of these images. They say that the domineering American culture has constantly projected them as a weaker race (Pewewardy, 180).

The constant revival of previous injustices visited upon them is the Achilles heel in trying to find a solution. The general implication of this emotional discussion and subsequent exhaustion of the highest legal avenues towards finding common ground is not a good thing. The possibility of hatred that spawns warlike tendencies and conflict is imminent especially in places like Dakota where the population of Indians is high (Pewewardy, 183).

Why this is a Touchy Subject

Many American Indians consider the use of “Redskins” (in both name and imagery) as having various philosophical implications and meanings. Majority’s sentiment is that the use of the Indian imagery depicts a racist environment. In addition, there is also an implication that the name creates a hostile environment (Vargas and Annys, page 1).

However, there are also supporters of this logo and name who derive their implications from the meaning. Perhaps, this is the reason why the some partners within the general society gathered several signatures to reinstate a state regulation (North Dakota) that required its application shortly. The name represented a tough time in the history of the Native American and Indians during which several native Indians were killed. It has a consequent implication that the Indians are hated (Spindel, 200).

Most American Indians have felt domineered by other American counterparts in consideration of the ancient actions or events that occurred amongst them in the ancient centuries. Therefore, the use of such names makes them recall the historical injustices, which they experienced because of the dominion (Spindel, 260). The philosophical implications are largely noted to stir emotional sentiments about the minority group that seemed to have undergone a lot of suffering.

Through the philosophical implications drawn from this name, the native Indians pose as the owners and of the land that was under dispute and view them as having deprived of their rights. The general implication here, therefore, remains emotive and might lead to the emergence of a conflict and fierce debate as already been noted, for example in North Dakota (Spindel, 259).

Usage of Native American Mascots and Nicknames at Young Age

Getting rid of Native American mascots and nicknames has been a great struggle in the United States because some individuals feel that the name shows respect, courage, bravery and a strong spirit (Pewewardy, 181). Therefore, there has been controversy in terms of the use of this term in the United States where fans, the team owners, and other academic organizations feel there is nothing wrong with mascots and logos, including nicknames (Pewewardy, 185).

Other supporters such as McCloud High School and Lamar High School in Oklahoma and Houston respectively have been quoted supporting the nicknames and mascots including their usage in sports. Indeed, several states have been identified to involve in the use of the redskin names for their teams (Pewewardy, 183).

This usage at a young age promotes the negativity. It is imperative that sports teams at a young age desist from using the imagery. The subjects taught in schools for history also need to enhance the fact that this usage is not derogatory.

How Elementary Schools Systems Encourage this

Despite the above situation, only 25 schools and 18 states have managed to drop these names following campaigns that have been geared towards eradication of the term “redskins” in the United States of America (Pewewardy 183). Despite all this support, schools should avoid the use of the term “redskins”, as it may lead to racial discrimination and low performance by students.

Many critics also concur that the name is more than derogatory and demeaning to the American indigenous people. Nevertheless, the struggle in the use of these nicknames and mascots seems unlikely to end in the near future due to the divergent perception exhibited by different groups of people (Staurowsky, 67).

How to Stop

Various attempts have been made in order to ensure that the changes will be applied to the use of mascots. Indeed, many scholars and researchers have published articles and journals advocating for the elimination and avoidance of the use of the term “redskin” (Staurowsky, 70). Again, there are also numerous criticisms from the public calling for the avoidance of the use of the term in football teams and other games and in public institutions.

Indeed, these attempts seem to have gained support from various team managers and game operators who admonish fans and other members of public that try to display logos of “redskin” in various public gatherings including sports events. Furthermore, many social science researches have indicated that the use of sports mascot is trivial and leads to low self-esteem and low academic performance at schools (Staurowsky, 74).

Why Americans use Native Americans as Mascots and Nicknames

The American society’s treatment of Native Indians has been under sharp criticism from the American Indians and other minority groups for a long time. Sections of Americans perceive the culture of Indians as war-like. However, others perceive the Natives as domicile and peace loving with a knack for been domineered (King, 10). This paper categorically depicts the manner in which the American culture uses Indian mascots to enhance the image of colonialism starkly imprinted on Indian American minds (Staurowsky, 67).

They see them as derogatory, and demeaning to them, their culture, and tradition. The Indians perceive the widespread mascot usage and its general representation as a reminder of the oppression that had been visited upon them and a continuation of an attack on their ideologies and beliefs (King, 11).

Struggles of Ending the Culture

Many organizations that use the American Indian mascot defend this by claiming that they do not want to depict a negative stereotype. However, they claim to emblem the universality and team spirit demonstrated by the Indians across generations. The media uses this to generate heated debates that make organizations to continue using these mascots to ride on the inherent euphoria (Staurowsky, 70).

There have been concerted attempts by the American Indian society in the United States to curtail usage of the mascots. For example, most Americans are made to believe that use of the mascots depicts an American society free of racial prejudices (Staurowsky, 70). However, scholars of the Indian history and representatives of the Indian culture oppose this strongly (Dabis-Delano, 350). They depict it as dehumanizing and strongly skewed to project a culture marred in retrogressive ideals.

Popularity of the usage of Indian mascots in the 20th century was widespread. Though some organizations have stopped using them, some still hung on to their mascots and do not show any signs that they will stop. Additionally, widespread usage of perceivably derogative words such as ‘redskins’ still exists in many American places (Staurowsky, 70).


Since the origin of the “Indians” name, some teams have become synonymous with culturally appropriated symbols of American Indians (Muir, 21). The rate of production of this imagery has greatly increased as the explosion of media technologies and the creativity of enterprising entrepreneurs have combined to generate consumer enthusiasm in varying memorabilia, placing the franchise within the top tier of professional teams in merchandise sales (Muir, 20).

Solutions to Usage of Native American Mascots and Nicknames Derogatorily

Using the Indian mascot is a controversy that just fails to fade away. The media, philosophers, and historians give varied views on this topic. This generates further discussion and the organizations at the center of all these register immense economic gains. Recently, the Native Americans have tried to get a piece of the profits arguing that without usage of their images this would not be case. Otherwise, as they have done for a long time, they insist that these organizations stop using the images (Dabis-Delano, 360).

The government is best placed to solve this problem. There are opinions that racism and bigotry characters shall be persistent if sport teams maintained to apply the concerned name and logo. The recent application of the logo and name in sports within US has elicited many reactions from different sides of the society.

The particular small boxes used by most American cheering squad during these sports were symbolically and figuratively harmful to others. The state governments should enact legislation that expressly prohibits this usage. Additionally, it is imperative that stakeholders desist from sensationalizing the issue (King, 12).


The paper discusses how the use of Native American mascots in sports is unjust because it depicts the native people in a stereotypical way and is insensitive to both their race and cultures. An example of this injustice is the Redskins mascot. With a notable infiltration into the American sporting culture right from elementary schools, antagonists consider the usage of these imagery and names derogatory while protagonists consider it as a way of upholding culture.

To stop their usage, states have to enact laws that expressly prohibit the culture. The media need not pay too much attention to the controversy and should detest giving airtime. Additionally, Americans have to arrive at a central ground through sober discussions and analysis of the effects of using the imagery.

Works Cited

Dabis-Delano, Laurel. “Eliminating Native American Mascots: Ingredients for Success.” Journal of Sport & Social Issues 31.4 (2007): 340-373. Print.

King, Richard. “Defensive Dialogues: Native American mascots, Anti-Indianism, and Educational Institutions.” Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education 2.1 (2002): 1-12. Print.

King, Richard. “Uneasy Indians: Creating and Contesting Native American Mascots at Marquette University.” Team Spirits: The Native American mascots controversy 30.2 (2001): 281-303. Print.

Muir, Sharon. “Native Americans and Sports Mascots.” Team Spirits: The Native American mascots controversy 2.1 (2001): 19-22. Print.

Pewewardy, Cornel. “Playing Indian at Halftime: The Controversy over American Indian Mascots, Logos, and Nicknames in School-Related Events.” The Clearing House 77.5 (2004): 180-185. Print.

Spindel, Carol. Dancing at Halftime: Sports and the Controversy over American Indian Mascots, New York: New York University Press, 2002. Print.

Staurowsky, Ellen. “’You Know, We Are All Indian’: Exploring White Power and Privilege in Reactions to the NCAA Native American Mascot Policy.” Journal of Sport & Social Issues 31.1 (2007): 61-76. Print.

Vargas, Theresa and Shin Annys. 2013. Web.

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"Native American Mascots and Nicknames in Sports: The Problem." IvyPanda, 11 May 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/native-american-mascots-and-nicknames-in-sports-the-problem/.

1. IvyPanda. "Native American Mascots and Nicknames in Sports: The Problem." May 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/native-american-mascots-and-nicknames-in-sports-the-problem/.


IvyPanda. "Native American Mascots and Nicknames in Sports: The Problem." May 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/native-american-mascots-and-nicknames-in-sports-the-problem/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Native American Mascots and Nicknames in Sports: The Problem." May 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/native-american-mascots-and-nicknames-in-sports-the-problem/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Native American Mascots and Nicknames in Sports: The Problem'. 11 May.

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