Last year I was a student at the University of Illinois and I experienced the outrage that still exists on campus surrounding Chief Illiniwek’s absence. Students still make social media campaigns, and form pleas to the student government in an attempt to bring back the Chief. As a student, I received countless texts and Facebook messages urging me to go and vote to bring the Chief back on a student held referendum. I declined.
In 2007, the National Collegiate Athletic Association deemed Chief Illiniwek “hostile or abusive” to Native Americans. I applaud the university’s actions to remove Chief Illiniwek’s gameday performance and their ability to stand by the decision. Unfortunately, not all high school, college and professional sports teams have handled their racist mascots with the same degree of determination.
Our use of racist mascots and team names will undoubtedly be embarrassing to future generations. Fans who support these mascots argue they are steeped in tradition. However, tradition is not equivalent to excellence. In fact, all tradition proves is that these mascots were chosen during a very different era of American society.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Washington Redskins, the Chicago Blackhawks and many more offensive team names and mascots still exist in America today. How can we stereotype an entire population of people into one symbol? How can we support those mascots when there are people speaking up to say they are offended?
In May, Daniel Synder, owner of the Washington Redskins told USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER.You can use caps.” This statement was in response to a storm of protest against the Washington Redskins’ name. However, Snyder has declared himself incapable of compromise. Snyder has nothing to gain, yet a significant amount to lose, both morally and economically, from his team’s monicker. According to an Oneida Indian National Poll released Oct. 16, 59 percent of respondents said they believe Native Americans have the right to feel offended by the name of the Washington Redskins. Further, 46 percent of respondents said a name change wouldn’t lessen their support for the team. In fact, an additional 23 percent said it would strengthen their support for the team. It seems the Washington Redskins can only benefit morally and economically from a name change.
I’ve read opposing arguments to the elimination of racist mascots that say having these kinds of mascots opens up discussion on American history and culture. I cannot see the validity of this point. I believe that discussion of American history can take place without the presence of racist mascots. Those types of discussions should occur in a school setting without needing a sporting event as a catalyst.
I cannot comprehend how fans can become so obsessed with a sports team they deem a name or mascot for that team more important than a moral obligation to stand up against racism. Supporting a mascot seems rather trivial in the grand scheme of things, yet racism is not. America is becoming wiser about this sort of thing. I know eventually we will get rid of the racist team names and mascots, but it just seems counterintuitive that it hasn’t happened yet.
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