Thursday, October 10, 2013

Eliminate Hurtful Sports Mascots and Logos

Human beings with a deep, rich culture -- not sports mascots
Add my voice to the growing calls for sports to eliminate ethnically offensive names, mascots and logos from the playing field. At the top of the list are Washington D.C.’s NFL football and Cleveland’s Major League Baseball organizations. I won’t mention names. Why? Regarding the first organization, its team moniker is ghastly when you actually think about it. In the case of the second, their appalling logo is a major league insult. In both cases, the target ethnic group is Native American – human beings that have been trampled physically, mentally and now psychologically.
Many Americans cannot or are unwilling to see how hurtful these words and images are. Much of this apathy has to do with empathy, or rather a lack of it. Much of mainstream media, which projects this dreadful imagery to the public, is also to blame. So too are certain corporations. They do this by displaying the offensive logos and regularly uttering historically racist terms to millions. Regarding media, its intention, we assume, is to provide the best sports and entertainment coverage possible. Oh, and maintain ratings. And we all know what the bottom line is for corporations. But at what cost?
Intention versus impact. Powerful forces. History recounts that early European settlers immigrated to what would become known as America for the same reasons back then as they are now. Many sought a new start and better life or relief from financial hardship. For others the intent was to escape social, cultural, ethnic, or religious persecution. Still others wanted to escape political oppression.
Indian Removal Act of 1830: also known as The Trail of Tears 
While all of those intentions might have been right and justified, there’s no escaping the fact that the dreadful impact of colonizing an already inhabited land was the geographic displacement of the people already living there. This forced relocation sparked to a chain of events that led to the near extinction of Native American populations (through disease, starvation and war) and decimation of their cultural traditions. Along the way, Native Americans were demonized for being different (“their skin is red and they prefer hunting to farming!”) and for daring to resist their colonizers.
Later, the government forcibly removed surviving Native American youth from their families and placed them in boarding schools. The intention was to educate and recondition them to Euro-American standards. The horrifying impact was a harsh, oppressive experience, particularly for younger children; they were separated from their families. In nearly all ways, students were encouraged or forced to abandon their Native American cultural identities; stripped of their language and heritage in an effort to assimilate them into society. Imagine if it were your kids who were taken away against your will for “reconditioning.”
Fed Ex Stadium: cultural concentration camp
This takes us to the 1950s and ‘60s, a time in which TV and movie Westerns reinforced the most negative stereotypes of Native Americans. It also marked the early years of mass marketing, a practice exploited by colleges and professional sporting teams. Over time, offensive logos and mascots were rendered invisible by fanaticism and nostalgia on the part of alumni (in the case of schools) and other ticket buyers. Among colleges and team owners: ticket sales and t-shirts. Cha-ching!
Today, fans and team owners cling ferociously to the nearsighted intention that their team names and logos "honor" Native Americans. But the impact is something entirely different. The slurs and caricatures reinforce harmful stereotypes and dehumanize an entire people.
Daniel Snyder, the owner of the NFL team in Washington, DC, was quoted this year in USA Today: “We'll never change the name… it's that simple. NEVER -- you can use caps.”
It reminds me of a former Alabama governor whom, before changing his politics, spouted the now famous and utterly ignorant 1963 rhetoric, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
As for media outlets that still broadcast offensive verbiage and visuals, corporations that market hurtful team swag, and fans that buy it, it’s time to get on the right side of history.

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