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Tradition vs. Sensitivity:
The Use of Indian Mascots and Nicknames by
College and Professional Sports Teams

A collage of college and professional  Indian mascots




Mini-Essay on Steve Case and AOL

Introduction: (back to top)

In popular culture, it seems that America has a fascination with Native American imagery. Many drive cars that are Cherokee, Navajo, or Winnebago models and go to schools with mascots like the Warriors, Braves, Indians and Fighting Reds. On the weekends, they pull for professional sports teams such as the Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins, and the Cleveland Indians.

For more than 30 years, the debate has been raging over the use of Native American imagery, in the form of names and mascots, by high schools, college and professional teams. The case for keeping sports mascots and logos the way they are seems to have its entrenched supporters, but the opponents of using Indian images and names to represent sports teams are growing behind a large grassroots effort of civil rights organizations, multicultural groups, Native American activist organizations and tribal leaders.

These activist organizations continually work to banish clownish figures like the Cleveland Indian's Chief Wahoo and racially insensitive names like the Washington Redskins. These activists argue that these images and names are demeaning and dehumanizing. Does it matter that these symbols are caricatures of human beings or of a race of people? Does this imagery promote racism?

In a recent Sports Illustrated Magazine, a poll of Native Americans and sports fans, conducted by the independent Peter Harris Research Group, was one of the top stories. The results suggest that even though Native American activists are deeply concerned and opposed to Indian mascots, the general Native American population does not really care. So do Indian names and mascots actually offend Native Americans or is this just an issue that self-appointed Native American activists care about?

If Indian mascots and nicknames are deemed offensive and sports teams have to change team mascots and logos - then where will it all end. For example, will the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame have to change its name because some Irish might find it offensive? Similarly, what if Nordic people find the name of the Minnesota Vikings football team offensive? Will they have to change also? Other nicknames and mascots, however, that were based on stereotypes of other races, like the San Diego Blacks and Houston Wops, have been changed with no earth-shattering effect, so why do sports teams still hold onto Indian mascots with the excuse of tradition. Since when is a sports team's name more important than the sensitivities of our fellow human beings?

The answers to these questions affect all Americans. The debate is about more than sports teams and what they call themselves; it is about how Americans treat one another. It is about the respect that different ethnic groups have for those different than themselves in terms of history, physical characteristics, values, and most importantly, emotions. This research is intended for a broad audience - not just sports fans and Native Americans - but all American citizens, of every ethnicity, young and old.


Keywords: (back to top)

A picture of a teepee with the words: Honor or affront
UNC Library Catalog:
  • su (Native American OR Indian) AND mascot?
  • (college OR professional) AND sport? AND Native American
  • Discriminat? in sport? AND Indians
  • "Cleveland Indians" AND "Chief Wahoo"

LexisNexis Academic: Guided News Search

  • General News - Magazines and Journals - Previous ten years
    "Indian mascots" [full text] AND professional [full text] OR college [full text]
  • General News - Major Papers - Previous five years
    Mascot [headline] AND Indian [full text] and (discrimination and sports) [full text]
  • General News - Major Papers - Previous five years
    (Native American or Indian) [headline] w/5 mascot! [full text] AND (college or professional) [full text]
  • General News - Time Incorporated Publication - Previous year - "Sports Illustrated"
    "Indian mascot!" [full text] AND sport! [full text] AND NOT score [headline]

Search engine on Web:

  • "Indian mascots" professional sports teams
  • "Indian mascots" college sports teams
  • Native American nicknames mascots
  • "discrimination in sports" Indian mascots

    NOTE: According to, "By default, Google only returns pages that include all of your search items. There is no need to include "and" between terms. Also, Google does not use 'stemming' or support 'wildcard searches.'"

Library Sources: (back to top)

Print Sources:

1) King, Richard. Beyond the Cheers: Race as Spectacle in College Sport. Albany: State University of New York
Press, 2001. (CALL NUMBER: GV076.32.K52 2001)
2) King, Richard and Charles Springwood, eds. Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy. With a foreword by Vine Deloria, Jr. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001. (CALL NUMBER: GV714.5 .K56 2001)

Non-paper Source:
Fair or Foul? Native Americans Versus the Cleveland Indians: OH v. Bellecourt. 55 min. New York: Courtroom Television Network, 1998. Videocassette. (CALL NUMBER: KF224.B455 F347 1998)

E-Database Sources: (back to top)

Infotrac General Reference Gold:

1) (2000, November 27). Mind Your Own Mascot: For Years, Native American Mascots Have Been Under Siege - but Their Fans Are Beginning to Fight Back. Newsweek [Online], 69. Available: Infotrac General Reference Center Gold [2002, September 13].
Mauner, Mickey. (2001, August 6). Brave, Courageous, Noble - and Insulted. Indianapolis Business Journal [Online], 22(21), 15. Available: Infotrac General Reference Center Gold [2002, September 13].

MasterFile Premier:

3) Jackson Jr., E. Newton and Robert Lyons. (1997, April). Perpetuating the Wrong Image of Native Americans. JOPERD: The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance [Online], 68(4), 4-6. Available: MasterFILE Premier [2002, September 11].
4) Klein, Frederick. (2000, November 17). Hailing the Chief: Illiniwek's Last Stand? Wall Street Journal [Online], 236(98), W11. Available: MasterFile Premier [2002, September 11].

LexisNexis Academic:

5) Price, S.L. (2002, March 4). The Indian Wars. Sports Illustrated [Online], 66. Available: LexisNexis Academic [2002 September 4].
6) Robinson, Eugene. (1999, August 22). Images, Antics and Insults. The Washington Post [Online], W05. Available: LexisNexis Academic [2002 September 4].
7) Zawacki, Michael. (2000, July). Welcome to the Show. Inside Business [Online], 2(7), 30-36. Available: LexisNexis Academic [2002 September 4].

Web Sources: (back to top)

1) Title: National Coalition on Racism in Sports & Media

  • Address:
  • Description: The homepage of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports & Media. The site is organized well. The coalition has a board of directors made up of Native American professionals and others who are very vocal about their detest and hatred for Indian nicknames and mascots. Their contact information is also listed if a viewer had questions or needed additional information. This site is very indicative of how most Native American activist organizations feel about the debate. The site includes a well-written and well-researched essay by the coalition's vice president, an anti-Indian mascot poster that can be purchased and links to the coalition's press releases.
  • Source: The American Indian Movement

2) Title: Logos and Mascots

  • Address:
  • Description: One of the most poignant essays on the Web that describes the emotional effects of Indian mascots on Native Americans. It suggests a more personal side of the debate as the writer describes how drunken fans dressed in eagle feathers at a sport's game mocks something Native Americans hold sacred. The essay also offers some interesting analogies to other mascots. For example, the writer asks how Catholics would feel if they saw New Orleans Saints' fans dressed as the Pope and doing the "crucifix chop."
  • Source: The essay is a part of the Walk for Justice Documents, which strive to bring public awareness to current Native issues. However, the Walk for Justice site, is linked to Dennis Bank's, the author of the essay, homepage. Banks is a self-described Native American leader, activist, teacher and author. In 1968, he co-founded the American Indian Movement. Banks is also the leader of the Walk for Justice.

3) Title: American Indian Sports Team Mascots

  • Address:
  • Description: The homepage of the American Indian Sports Team Mascots. This site has an extremely large amount of information about the debate. Again, however, it is from the point of view of Native American activists. The site has links to a lot of factual information also, though, which makes it very valuable for research. There is a rundown of all fifty states that documents every resolution, policy, protest, and activity that has occurred in each location. The site also tells how many sports teams in each state use Native American tokens, the most used Native American mascot or nickname in the state and how many teams use the term "Redskins." There is a link to education resources that have been developed by professional educators on how to deal with this topic in schools. There is also a list of all the professional sports teams and a list of all college sports teams that use Native American logos or mascots. To make it easy for viewers to "get involved now," the list includes mailing addresses of each team. One of the most valuable features of the site is a link to all recent published news articles about the subject. Of course, the list is only of articles that favor the elimination of Native American mascots.
  • Source: American Indian Sports Teams Mascots

4) Title: Traditions: Seminoles - Heroic Symbol at Florida State

  • Address:
  • Description: An article written by Dr. Dale Lick, former president of Florida State University, that was published in USA Today on May 18, 1993. This is one of the few Web sites that condone the use of Native American mascots and symbols. In the article, Lick writes that over the years, FSU's special task force has worked closely with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to ensure that all Seminole symbols and traditions are honored and respected by the university's use. More importantly, the article includes a quote from the Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which says that Seminoles and FSU Seminoles are both winners.
  • Source: Florida State University

5) Title: American Indian Opinion Leaders: American Indian Mascots - Respectful Gesture or Negative Stereotype?

  • Address:
  • Description: This is a survey taken by Indian Country Today - Leading Native American Stereotype - of its readers to gauge their view on the Indian mascot issue. The site has pie graphs to illustrate the results and also includes direct quotes from many of the respondents. This site will be most helpful in my research, because the survey can be compared to the Sports Illustrated poll that suggested that most Native Americans do not care about the mascot issue.
  • Source: Indian Country Today

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