As the question of using Native American imagery continues to rattle around the corners of the sports world, many people have opinions but few (aside from the NCAA and the North Dakota legislature) bother to act on them. So there’s a lot of bloviating and posturing but not much more than that.
That’s why a new project from Uni Watch reader Brittain Peck is so refreshing. I’ll let him explain it:
This past NFL season I created a fantasy football team called the Whiteskins [click on the helmet image above to see the full details of his logo concept — PL]. It was intended as a satirical approach to drawing attention to the offensive nature of stereotypical American Indian sports mascots and the need to change them.
The “team” has since grown into a project in which I have committed to challenging the use of culturally offensive mascots by spreading our message via the sale of Whiteskins merchandise. More importantly, the proceeds from these sales are donated to organizations working for the benefit of Native American communities, with a focus on encouraging sports participation among Native youth.
I don’t want the Whiteskins’ message to just be negative — “You shouldn’t do that” or “Oh, how dare you” — so I have already begun preparing proposed logos, names, and mascot changes for other professional sports teams that currently use Native American imagery names and imagery in their branding and team culture. I’m not ready to show you those yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as I have them ready.
Personally, I love this. Much like No Mas’s brilliant Native American T-shirt (it’s hard to see, but all three mascots are shedding Photoshopped tears, thereby referencing Iron Eyes Cody and sports simultaneously), the Whiteskins project confronts Native American sports imagery on its own terms and wins handily. More importantly, it doesn’t just make a good point — it tries to do something about it instead of just huffing and puffing. Kudos to Brittain for this excellent project.
Phil already offered his own take on the topic of Native American sports imagery in Sunday’s entry. That led to a very robust discussion, which I took part in, in that day’s comments. But not everyone reads the site on the weekends (typical Sunday viewership is about 65% of a weekday post’s), and most readers don’t look at the comments. So for those of you who haven’t seen my position on the matter, it’s fairly straightforward: If you’re going to take a continent from a group of people via a near-genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing, the least you could do, just as a bare minimum of basic courtesy, is not use their names and imagery, and you should especially not use it to sell stuff. It’s just wrong, because those names and images are not yours to use.
I’ve come to that point of view fairly recently. When I started writing Uni Watch in the spring of 1999, the first editor I worked with — Village Voice sports editor Miles Seligman — immediately suggested that I write about Indian imagery in team logos. I declined, in part because I was just getting started with Uni Watch (I had stirrups to celebrate, a certain loathsome color to lambaste, and so much other turf to stake out) but also, frankly, because Native American imagery in sports was a topic I hadn’t thought much about. And when I tried to think about it, I found it wasn’t something that registered all that strongly with me.
More than seven years later, in the fall of 2006, one of the early readers of this blog, Todd Krevanchi, interviewed me over the phone (the plan was to run the interview transcript here on the site, but for a variety of reasons that never happened). He was asking me all the standard questions I typically get asked — what’s my favorite uniform, what makes for a good logo, etc. — and then he asked if I felt strongly about the use of Indian logos, mascots, and so on. I said, “No.” He asked why, and I think I said something like, “I don’t know. It’s just never seemed that important to me.”
I wasn’t happy with my own answer there, because I can usually give a good explanation for why I do or don’t care about something. Later on, I gave it some more thought and realized I’d never known any American Indians personally (that’s still the case). And while I knew the basics of Indian history in America — from John Smith and Pocahontas to the Trail of Tears — I hadn’t really internalized it or bonded with it the way I’d done with, say, Civil War history (I’m still not sure why). So I decided to re-learn some of that history by reading some books, doing some research, etc. As I did so, the answer to the question of team names and mascots came into much sharper focus for me, and it became apparent that the use of these names and images was unacceptable.
Also, in 2008 I started dating a woman who’d grown up in California and Alaska, where Native issues are much stronger parts of the local culture and discourse than they are in the Northeast, where I grew up. Spending time with her helped to broaden my perspective and open my eyes regarding Native American issues that I hadn’t thought about before. In addition, some credit goes to Phil, who was way ahead of me on this issue, and whose own principled stances helped me arrive at where I am today.
A few weeks ago, the North Dakota situation came up in the comments. Reader R. Scott Rogers had this to say:
You know who should be called the Fighting Sioux? The team representing the four-year university we established for the Lakota peoples when we took their land and herded them into desolate concentration camps. Oh, right, we didn’t establish universities for them. Whoops! …
Anyone else wants to use that name, they need to ask permission. From all Sioux tribal government. And if they don’t all grant permission, then tough. You respect that, and you find yourself another nickname for your teams.
That pretty much matches my own line of thought, although I think non-Native institutions that receive permission to use Native imagery should also have to pay a royalty or licensing fee.
I know some of you disagree with me on this issue; that’s fine. Some of you also seem to view the discussion of this topic as a proxy for raft of larger socio-political accusations (i.e., if you’re against the use of Native names/imagery, then you must also be an Occupy Wall Streeter who drinks soy lattes while burning a flag, and if you have no problem with these team names then you must listen to Rush Limbaugh while polishing your handguns with your Tea Party pals); that’s not so fine. Personally, I’m not interested in engaging in any cultural profiling. I’m just interested in this issue, because it relates to uniforms and logos. All the other stuff is just noise that distracts from the issue at hand.
Based on some of the comments and questions that came up on Sunday, plus some e-mails that were sent to me privately, here’s a FAQ-ish approach to some of the questions that might come up today, and my responses to them (with one exception, everything in bold is either a paraphrase or a direct quote of something that’s been posted in the comments or expressed to me via e-mail, so I’m not inventing staw men here — these are my responses to real issues raised by real readers):
Are you opposed to all team names with Native American references, including the Redskins, Chiefs, Braves, Blackhawks, Warriors, etc.?
What about teams like the Utah Utes and the Florida State Seminoles, which have worked out specific arrangements with their respective local tribes?
That’s different. Permission = good! But as noted above, I’d like to see a licensing fee or royalty involved as well.
If a team name like Indians is bad, what about a team name like Vikings?
That’s apples and oranges. The Vikings were not a victimized class subjected to genocide, theft of their land, etc. The issue here, at least from my perspective, isn’t about ethnic stereotyping; it’s about systematically destroying a culture and then using that culture’s imagery as if it belongs to you, which it doesn’t.
What about the Fighting Irish?
Okay, but if you go down this road, someone’s always gonna find something offensive about any team name or mascot. Where does it stop?
You mean where does doing the right thing stop? Here’s a better question: Where does it start? The hypothetical “Pandora’s Box” argument is a pretty standard way to obstruct social justice (it was used against women who wanted to vote, blacks who wanted civil rights, the Equal Rights Amendment, etc.), but it sidesteps the issue at hand — i.e., whether it’s right for teams to use Native names/imagery.
I realize that the term “Redskins” is derogatory, but there’s nothing inherently negative about a team name like Indians or Blackhawks.
It’s not a question of whether the team names and mascots are derogatory per se; it’s about whether the teams using those names have any right to use them. I don’t think they do.
Why are you getting so worked up about this when polls show that Native Americans themselves don’t care about this issue?
People who raise this point are usually referring to a poll conducted by Sports Illustrated in 2002. The results were published in this article (which is an excellent, highly nuanced analysis of the issue — strongly recommended), and the key passage is this one:
Asked if they were offended by the name Redskins, 75% of Native American respondents in SI’s poll said they were not, and even on reservations, where Native American culture and influence are perhaps felt most intensely, 62% said they weren’t offended. Overall, 69% of Native American respondents — and 57% of those living on reservations — feel it’s O.K. for the Washington Redskins to continue using the name.
That’s a powerful bit of data — but it’s not quite the same as the blanket statement “Native Americans aren’t offended by these names.” Based on the poll numbers, between a quarter and a third of them are offended (or at least they were 10 years ago; I’d be interested in seeing more current data), which I’d say is a pretty sizable minority. Why would you want to do something that offends a third of Native Americans, when changing the team names would probably offend none of them?
But I also think that’s not the only point. As an American citizen who views the country’s treatment of Native peoples as one of the less savory chapters in our national history, I find these team names offensive, and so do many others, because it the very notion of it demeans all of us (just as slavery demeaned all of us, just as Japanese internment demeaned all of us, etc.). It’s part of the social contract: We’re all in this together.
If you have some sort of white guilt, that’s your problem. Don’t try to make me feel guilty, because I’ve never done anything bad to Indian people. My ancestors didn’t even come to America until 1910!
Let me be clear: I do not feel guilty about the plight of Native Americans. Guilt implies wrongdoing, and I’ve done nothing wrong. I assume you haven’t either (unless you’ve been, like, firebombing Indian reservations or something crazy like that).
I do, however, feel a strong sense of shared civic responsibility, because I benefit every single day from things that were done to Native Americans. I live a very privileged life, and with great privilege comes great responsibility.
Consider this: My ancestors came here around 1910 too, and they were able to do things that Native Americans could not. For example, although my great-grandparents were poor, they could still send their kids to decent public schools; after becoming naturalized, they could vote (many Indians, especially those on reservations, did not have this right at the time); and so on. So while my ancestors didn’t do anything wrong to Native Americans, they benefitted from a system that was rigged against Native Americans. Those benefits, in the form of inherited wealth, inherited property, and so on, have trickled down (or up) to me. That’s what I mean when I say I benefit every day from what was done so long ago, and why I feel those privileges give me a shared responsibility to do the right thing.
Well, that’s fine for you, but you don’t have the right to unilaterally make these teams change their names. Who made you commissioner?
I’m not claiming any power to make these changes by some sort of magical fiat. (If I had that power, I wouldn’t bother writing a blog post — I’d just go out and make it so.) I’m simply engaging in a discussion about a uni-relevant issue.
If you really want to make the world a better place, stop whining about team names and start doing something about the slave labor conditions in the factory where your iPhone is made, or about famine in Africa, or about [insert worthy cause here].
First of all, who says I’m not doing things to help famine-stricken Africans? More importantly, though, this blog is about uniforms and logos. If you’d like to discuss African famine, I’m sure there’s another blog where we can do that later on. Either way, I don’t see how that precludes us from discussing the issue of sports teams using Native imagery. Yes, there are all sorts of ways to make the world a better place; this is one of them. I never claimed it was the only one.
You’re such a hypocrite. You talk about all this stuff, but what are you doing to help Native Americans?
This is one of many, many ways in which people have used this discussion to accuse me of being a hypocrite, often in rather creative ways. (Remember that Notre Dame box thingie that I auctioned off for charity last fall? One guy said I was a hypocrite for not using the money to benefit Native Americans.) I’ve also been called a asshole, a moron, and lots of other things. Look, if it will help us advance the discussion, then fine: For the sake of argument, I’m a hypocrite, I’m a fraud, I’m an asshole. Now that we’ve established that, can we get back to discussing whether it’s appropriate for these teams to have these names and logos? We can talk about what a big fat jerk I am some other time; today we’re discussing the message, not the messenger.
These logos and team names are so entrenched — how can you expect team owners to change them?
Lots of situations once thought to be intractable were eventually changed: slavery, women’s suffrage, “baseball can’t possibly be played indoors,” etc.
Those are extreme examples. Do you really think these team names and logos are on the same level as slavery and women’s suffrage?
No — it’s a much smaller issue, not nearly as entrenched as those other things were. And therefore it shouldn’t be so hard to change. That’s the point of making those comparisons: If we could change those other things, we should easily be able to change this.
Look, I’m not racist. But I don’t have any problem with these team names, and I don’t appreciate being called a racist as a result of that.
Nobody’s calling you a racist (or at least I’m not). I think it’s entirely possible for decent people to have an honest disagreement on this issue. I just happen to feel, strongly, that using Native American culture as the basis of a team brand is wrong.
I can see your point, but I’m a Cleveland native and a lifelong Indians fan. You can’t expect fans like me to just give up these team names and logos — we feel emotionally connected to them!
I totally understand that. Hell, the connection between fan and team brand is the essence of Uni Watch. And yes, I realize it’s easy for me to point the finger at the names of teams that I don’t root for. Nobody’s asking me to give up my emotional connection to the Mets or 49ers.
But if I were an Indians or Redskins fan (or if the word “Mets” turned out to have some offensive connotation), I hope I’d be strong enough to stay true to my principles. Doing the right thing can be hard sometimes — that’s why we tend to respect people when they do it.
Wait a minute, I don’t agree with you on what “the right thing” is. I have no problem with these team names and logos.
That’s fine. We can disagree.
This whole thing is stupid. It’s an invented issue created by a small bunch of loudmouths. Nobody cares.
I believe you are mistaken. If you Google “native american team names controversy,” you get over 2.5 million hits. If you look at Phil’s post from Sunday, there were over 300 comments. People do care.
Okay, but most sports fans still don’t care. It’s just a few people like you making a fuss.
The “silent majority” argument always seems persuasive, doesn’t it? The thing is, many members of the silent majority, on any given issue, just haven’t thought much about that issue (just as I hadn’t thought about this one until relatively recently) — that’s part of why they’re silent. Maybe some of those people will read this, think a little harder, and draw their own conclusions on regarding an issue that hadn’t previously been on their radar.
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that this really is an “invented” issue. In fact, let’s say Uni Watch invented it (which is completely untrue, but just work with me here). What would be so wrong about that? We’ve invented lots of things here, from the term “FNOB” to a greater awareness of logo creep. If Uni Watch helped create a discussion about the use of Native American imagery where no discussion had previously existed, I’d be fine with that.
I’m tired of this. I wish this site would get back to talking about uniforms.
But we are talking about uniforms. This is a perfectly legitimate uni-related topic, especially given what’s going on right now with the North Dakota men’s and women’s hockey teams. If you mean that you wish I’d stick to talking about new uniform unveilings or Peyton Manning’s uni number or whatever, those things are perfectly legitimate uni-related topics too, but they’re not the only ones.
Yeah, but when you take up a topic like this, it’s like you’re using the blog as your personal soapbox.
Well, Uni Watch is my personal soapbox. That’s always been the case here, whether I’m saying, “Stirrups are great!” or “Purple sucks!” or “The Mets should ditch the black!” or “Football jerseys should have real sleeves!” (or even “I love eating meat!”). And yes, it’s also the case when I say that I think the use of Native American team names and logos is wrong. Nothing about the soapbox has changed except, apparently, your perception of it.
Yeah, but those other things are just about sports. This topic is about, like, the larger world and stuff.
True enough. Sometimes the uni-verse (and the sports world in general) exists in its own little compartment; sometimes it overlaps with the rest of the world. That’s how life is sometimes.
Why did you have to write about this today when Phil already covered it on Sunday?
If it was just a matter of saying, “I think these team names/logos wrong,” I wouldn’t have addressed that topic today. But Brittain Peck had already told me about his Whiteskins project late last week, well before I knew what Phil was planning for last Sunday’s post. I think Brittain’s project is a good one, so I wanted to showcase it today. (Also, as noted earlier, we get less traffic on the weekends, so many people reading this may not have seen Phil’s post on Sunday.)
Okay, Mr. Holier Than Thou, here’s a chance for you to put your money where your mouth is: Will you stop making membership cards based on teams that use these names and logos?
Actually, nobody asked me that, but it occurred to me while I was working on this entry. So yes, as of right now, we will no longer produce membership cards with designs based on the Redskins, Indians, Braves, Blackhawks, etc. The truth is, Scott (who executes the card designs) was opposed to including these teams in the membership program when we started it in 2007, but I overruled him, because my views on this topic were still evolving. Now, however, it’s time to do the right thing. The new policy is now spelled out on the membership sign-up page.
That’s it. I’ve had my say, so I won’t be participating much, if at all, in today’s comments. The floor is yours.
If you’ve been having trouble with the site’s RSS feed, try using this one instead. That should take care of it.
Live chat reminder: I’ll be doing an ESPN.com live chat today, 3pm Eastern. Details here.
Meanwhile, there’s a new entry on the Permanent Record blog.
Uni Watch News Ticker: I had already reported that the Cardinals would be wearing gold-logo caps for their home opener on April 13. Now it turns out they’ll also be wearing heavily gold-accented jerseys for that game (be sure to click through to the photos to see the rear view of the jersey), and they’ll wear them again when they receive their World Series rings the following day. … The UK’s uniforms for the Olympics have been unveiled. Further info/videos here, and UK reader Jonathan Bean has blogged about it. … New rule for international cycling: Socks must be shorter than the mid-point between ankle and knee (from Bernie Langer). … Lewis Hamilton had a kangaroo drawn on his helmet at the Australian GP (from Omar Jalife). … Good overview of Marquette basketball uni history here (from Brian Fitterman). … Latest team with gray alts: Virginia baseball. This could really mess with the notion of “road grays” (from Blake Pass). … Chris Fernandez’s wife made some bat knob decals for their son’s bats. ” It’s been a hit in our league and has gotten a lot of attention,” says Chris. … Speaking of bat knob decals, the latest MLB team to hop aboard that train is the Nationals. … Tualatin High School in Oregon wears some very nice logo-emblazoned stirrups (from Travis McGuire). … Evan Longoria’s batting helmet was missing its logo the other day (screen shots by Joe Delach). … Fun article about minor league team names (from Matthew Robins). … Major douchebag move on the part of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which has told Jonathan Bernier of the L.A. Kings to tape over the Hollywood sign on his mask. I suggest that all Kings fans make bootleg “Hollywood” T-shirts — perhaps including the line, “This T-shirt is unauthorized” — and wear it to Kings games. … After a Canucks player knocked off Blackhawk Patrick Kane’s helmet during the second period of Wednesday night’s game, Kane (88) wore teammate Brendan Morrison’s (17) helmet during his next shift (from Tim E. O’Brien). … Coupla interesting auction finds by Mike Hersh: an Angels full-length hoodie and a bizarre two-tone Cardinals jacket. … Just in time for the Final Four, our friends at Retro College Cuts have added a set of Michigan State throwback shorts to their offerings. Details here. … More monkeyshines: It’s a little hard to see, but the top-right illustration on this comic book cover is about a gorilla baseball team. Tommy Allred describes the story: “A scientist discovers how to electrically stimulate dormant parts of a gorilla’s brain so they can think and speak like humans. He develops a device that he puts in the button of a baseball cap that will continually provide this stimulation. He teaches them baseball and takes them on the road. They defeat a MLB team (Yankees, I think), 45-0, by scoring one run in the first, two in the second, and so on. As time goes on, the scientist overhears the gorillas plotting the to take over civilization from the humans, so he introduces some type of gas in their sleeping room to keep them unconscious while he removes the caps (which they have to sleep in, of course) to avert the catastrophe.” World domination via squatchee — I like it! … LIU baseball is wearing some awesome feather-edged stirrups. That shot was provided by Shawn Sweeney, who also sent along an absolutely astonishing 1963 LIU photo. I’ve seen snap-on nameplates on basketball warm-ups, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one on a baseball jersey before. … Did a revised facemask turn around Alex Smith’s career? Maybe (from Roger Faso). … Jay Jackson is trying to create an updated, modernized version of Mark Okkonen’s baseball database (and is doing so with Okkonen’s blessing). It’s a lot of work, so trying to fund the project via a Kickstarter campaign. … Kirsten Hively’s volvelle collection has been featured on the excellent Obsessionistas site. … New caps for the Grand Junction Rockies (from Tom Manann). … I think we may have seen this before, but just in case: Here’s a cool poster showing NBA championship ring designs broken down by team. … “The first hour of the LCS Hockey Radio Show on Wednesday was an interview with Kris Bazen, the man behind the recently released Buffaslug concepts,” writes Daniel Dykstra. “They talk about how he started in sports design, the development of the Buffalo logo and reactions, and Kris gives his top 11 sports logos.” … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: The Altoona curve’s cap design has built-in rally cap functionality. … Yesterday I mentioned how three players involved in Mets/Nats double play were all wearing No. 13. “I’m curious to know if any of these players are Venezuelan,” writes Louis Gaunch. “As you know, many Venezuelan players wear that number as a tribute to Dave Concepcion.” Sure enough, two of the players in question — Andres Blanco and Ronny Cedeño — are Venezuelan. Good call by Louis. … The Cardinals aren’t the only team that can wear birds on a bat. That’s the Southeastern Community College Blackhawks from Iowa. … New Era has come out with some ABA throwback caps. “Unfortunately, they didn’t do much homework on the team colors,” says Richard Craig. “Just off some quick observations, the San Diego Conquistadors, Washington Capitals, Carolina Cougars, Kentucky Colonels, and Denver Nuggets caps are all wrong.” … Remember the odd “H” cap that the Astros apparently during spring training of 1965? Todd Radom appears to have found another provisional Astros cap from that same period. … Speaking of Todd, he recently started his own blog. … Hey, those Reebok folks sure are classy. … “I was watching a replay of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tonight and noticed that #15 on Cuba was wearing a completely different kit from the rest of the team,” says Michael Evangelista. “I didn’t watch the whole match so I have no idea if they discussed what happened.” … New coaching gear for Notre Dame here and here (from Warren Junium). … “I was recently at Disney world and spotted this worker outside of Casey’s restaurant where they sell hot dogs,” says Dave Gambill. … Some guy in Pittsburgh (I’m assuming) wore a Pirates-themed outfit to his prom (from Dan Cichalski).
One recurring trend here on the site is that I’ll point out some annoying example of corporate douchebaggery or advertising encroachment, someone will then post a comment saying, “It’s just business, what’s wrong with that?,” and then I’ll respond with a comment about how I find it upsetting that everything in American life seems to be for sale. Now a new article in The Atlantic spells out the situation a lot better than I ever could (and without the word “douchebaggery,” you’ll be happy to hear). The author’s key point is that there’s a big difference between a market economy, which is what we had for most of the country’s history, and a market society, which is what we seem to have become in recent years. You can see the rest for yourself. Superb reading, and highly recommended.