Mascots and Their Discontents: Notes on Indigenous People’s Day

Have you seen this criminal?

Have you seen this criminal?

Happy Indigenous People’s Day! It coincides with the holiday “Columbus Day” where the federal government is shut down for a day. And since the Republican Party is holding the government hostage to deny health coverage for millions of Americans everyday, that makes today pretty much just your average Monday.

Native American mascots are not cool, and the Washington football team needs to change its name.  It’s racist plain and simple. It just needs to happen, but of course if sports team owners did the right thing every time, then the Warriors would stay in Oakland and drop the ridiculous “Golden State” (where is that?) moniker, Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling would turn his apartment buildings into affordable housing, and Miami wouldn’t have been robbed by the Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.

Instead what we get is owner Dan Snyder cherry-picking polls and quotes from Native Americans defending the team name. The week before Columbus Day, just to pile it on further I guess. Well, you know you’re in trouble when your main sports media apologist/supporter is such a bad writer that he misquoted his own father-in-law in defending the use of a racial slur for a team mascot. Snyder can’t even get your facts straight. The same Red Cloud Athletic fund that Snyder cites as a consultant on the logo design released a statement denying support for the logo:

As an organization, Red Cloud Indian School has never—and will never—endorse the use of the name “R********.” Like many Native American organizations across the country, members of our staff and extended community find the name offensive.

Looking at the overall context, we see that the efforts by organized forces pushing for a name change picking up steam. You have the Oneida Nation hammering Dan Snyder publicly for his open letter and running radio ads opposing the team name. Last week the National Congress of American Indians released a report detailing the impacts of negative stereotypes on Native Americans and the racist history of the team name. The same group put out this poster putting the Cleveland Indians on blast too.

Yeah... not cool either

Yeah… not cool either

Even a piece of the ESPN media behemoth, Grantland, ran this op-ed against the Washington racist mascot and their star podcaster/writer Bill Simmons announced he’d stop using the name on his radio show and has quietly dropped the name from his printed work. And media outlets Slate and Mother Jones have both decided to stop using the racist mascot name as well.

For all of Snyder’s big talk about NEVER changing the name (he used ALL CAPS back in May), this is one story that team ownership just can’t bury. From the bungled defense of the name by Rick Reilly noted earlier, smartly torn apart by The Nation’s Dave Zirin, to comments by President Obama saying he’d change the name if he could, there are weekly headlines about the team’s racist mascot. Shoot, even humor sites like The Onion and Funny or Die piled on with their own takedowns of the team name. Even sportscaster Bob Costas called the name a slur during last night’s Sunday Night Football game featuring Washington!


Hitting a campaign target is about finding the right levers to get that boss or a decision-maker to do something they don’t want to do or deploy resources they wouldn’t otherwise. Given all this motion, it’s clear that Snyder’s hand was forced by his own bumbling responses to critics, his overall lack of defenders outside of the idiotic internet-troll types, and the mobilization on various fronts by opponents of the Washington racist mascot. I’m sure he’s not just ready to write open letters on a whim, but that he did shows that something is working.

AND the ship too!

AND the ship too!

So on this Indigenous People’s Day 2013, I leave you with a funny video to reinforce the important message of “screw Columbus and the ship he came in on” and offer some Asian-Indian solidarity (or is that Asian Indian solidarity? Hah!).

Comedian Hari Kondobolu asks of Italian Americans who want to celebrate Columbus:

Why not Joe DiMaggio Day instead? He was a hall of fame baseball player with a record 56 game hitting streak, look at his stats: career .325 batting average, seven straight seasons of over a hundred RBI, and most importantly, zero career genocides.

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