How Native American Mascot Controversy Affects U.S. Reputation

The debate over Native American mascots in both the NCAA and in professional sports leagues has stirred up plenty of emotions in all sides over the last few years. Individuals with all different perspectives from all different walks of life have come out in support and in protest of the inclusion of Native American mascots for certain universities and teams. The side that opposes the use of these mascots has been the most interesting, because their perspective is something new and foreign to most. In their arguments, they have used plenty of examples for why the use of such mascots is degrading and harmful.
Though their reasons are many, these people have not taken a keen interest in proving that the use of Native American mascots might damage the American reputation abroad. Their efforts have been centered more on what effect these representations might have on individuals within the United States, as opposed to worrying about what others might think of the United States. There is, however, an accommodation in the critical statements that indicate that such mascot representations do not follow the American ideals of equality, in light of social movements that have happened over the last few decades.
The primary basis for argument seems to remove itself entirely from such assertions. After all, the majority of these special interest groups appear to be heading their own agenda and not holding dear the reputation of the American people. Along those lines, the people in charge of stirring up the commotion have set their focus onto other aspects of the debate. The reasons for that decision are many, but most feel that this sort of strategy is the most effective way to present the argument.

Among the most popular arguments against Native American mascots are those that assert the misrepresentation of the Native American people. A telling article by Anil Adyanthaya of the Boston Globe speaks to this fact and outlines the motivation for the infighting. In particular, the article suggests reasons why people are against Native American mascots, not why folks are in support of them. In the 2005 article, Adyanthaya writes, “The two main arguments against the continued use of Native American mascots are that they are racist and demeaning to Native Americans.
A review of the mascots used by the 30 schools under NCAA review lends credence to that position, as the Savages of Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the Redmen of Carthage College seem particularly troublesome” (Adyanthaya). This quote is representative of the entire article. In this article, the author asserts that the question of racism is a much more important one than any of the other arguments. He even goes so far as to give examples of how the racism is present in some of the names. Though this article is not the only one on the topic, it is a good representation of how protesters of Native American mascot names are feeling at the moment.
After some research, it is easy to see that the majority of dissenters are spending their time focusing on how the Natives themselves feel about the issue. Along these lines, one can easily see how the focus of the entire ordeal is much more domestic than it is broad. In fact, there is little evidence from any of the protesting groups to suggest that they have any care for the reputation of the United States abroad. Where do the Native Americans stand on the issue? Depending upon where one might go or who they might choose to ask, the answer could be very different.
According to that same Boston Globe article, the results are surprising. Though perception is that Native Americans have been opposed to the use of Native American mascot representations, the actual opinions offer something of a contradictory view. In that same article, Adyanthaya writes, “One poll on this subject suggests strongly that Native Americans reject this implied fragility. In a 2002 survey published by Sports Illustrated, 81 percent of Native Americans responding disagreed with the suggestion that schools should stop using Native American mascots” (Adyanthaya).
That is not where the focus of the protesters exists, though. There is significant evidence to say that those against the mascot uses are not to be swayed by overriding statistics such as the one mentioned in the Boston Globe article. Instead, these are people that set their primary focus to the individual stories. This provides another indication that they do not worry about what the American reputation might look like on a global scale. An eSports Media article by Dr. Jessica Johnson speaks to this focus on the individual. In her article, Johnson specifically describes the plight of the Sioux Indian tribe.
She writes, “Members of the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe recently presented a resolution demanding modification of the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux logo. Tribal members said the school’s Indian-head emblem is ‘dishonorable and an affront to the dignity and well being’ of its community” (Johnson). The Spirit Lake Sioux tribe is one of the few tribes that are leading the fight to ban Native American mascots and their cries are primarily focused on respecting their ancestors. Never in the reading material provided by the tribe is there any mention of the stigma that the United States might have to fight as a result of keeping a hold of Native American representations as mascots.
The American Indian Movement is another group that has made their presence felt throughout the entire debate. Since the beginning of the controversy, they have taken a hard line stand on Native American mascots and have done what they could to make sure that derogatory names are done away with before it is too late. By all accounts, this is one of the leading groups to look to in order to see the overriding reasons behind the debate. According to this group, the concern has much more to do with the young men and women that might be affected by the misrepresentation of different Native American tribes.
According to the American Indian Movement, risk exists that Native Americans could become a running joke if the mascots are allowed to continue. An article by Phyllis Raybin Emert of the New Jersey State Bar Foundation has published a comprehensive breakdown of this group’s stance on the issue. In her article, she writes, “Opponents of Native American mascots and nicknames are not concerned about the cost and use words such as disrespectful and hurtful, degrading and humiliating to describe what they believe is racial stereotyping. They regard the mascots as caricatures of real Indians that trivialize and demean native dances and sacred Indian rituals” (Emert). This, in effect, sums up the stance of those that want the Universities to drop their Native American mascots.
There is another side to this debate that should be addressed, as well. Individuals that stand by the use of Native American mascots have their own reasons for their stance, as well. For the most part, these people have no reason to resort to citing American reputation around the world, either. For the most part, they stand by traditions and the fact that the usual representation that is given by these mascots is a decent one. In many cases, the mascots are used to pay homage to a tribe of American Indians in the area where the school operates.
One excellent example of this is Syracuse University, home to the newly named “Orange”. For decades, Syracuse had given its athletic teams free use of the nickname “Orangemen”, but in the last few years, that has changed. This is one university where the origin of the nickname was done in order to honor the tribe that occupied the area where they now study and play. According to According to C. Richard King in his book, Team Spirits: The Native American Mascot Controvery, Syracuse even went so far as to name its school newspaper after the native tribe. In his book, King writes, “The frequent use of Indian images and metaphors, allusions to the local landscapes natural beauty, and even an illustration of natives resting reverently in front of a distant silhouette of the fine arts building demonstrate a student-generated image centered on Indianness” (King).
For Syracuse and many of the other universities that are now being forced to defend their long standing traditions, the challenge is to get people to get in line with that their intent was when the mascots were put into place. There is no time, nor is there a desire to care for the American reputation abroad.
Everyone involved in this debate has their own motives which must be kept in mind when studying the ordeal. For those that want the Native American images banned, the goal is to protect the image of American Indians, so that those who come after can see these people in a realistic sense. For them, it is also about fighting off racism and making sure that the American Indian tribes are not angered by the representations.
On the other side of the debate, a different motive exists for people who have an interest in protecting their long standing traditions. For them, it is much more about protecting the University or team’s image and not cowering under the pressure presented by the activist groups. As Carol Spindel wrote in her popular book, Dancing at Halftime: Sports and the Controversy Over American Indian Mascots, “However long time fans and alumni are being asked to give up an identity they’re attached to. Fans assert that naming teams after Indians is a positive way to honor them” (Spindel).
As this author indicates, there are strong feelings on both sides of this debate, with each side having a vested interest. Nowhere, however, is there a mention of people caring what other countries think about America when considering the mascot controversy. Though plenty of highly diverse reasons exist within this complicated dynamic, there is no evidence that exists which shows that the reputation of America is on the mind of any of the people involved.
Works Cited
Adyanthaya, Anil. The Boston Globe. Sports, Mascots, and Native Americans. 5 June 2005.
Emert, Phyllis Raybin. Native American Mascots: Racial Slur or Cherished Tradition?
Johnson, Dr. Jessica. eSports Media. Native Americans have Right to Protest Mascots. 11 September 2005.
King, C. Richard. Team Spirits: The Native American Mascot Controversy. 1 February 2001. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Spindel, Carol. Dancing at Halftime: Sports and the Controversy over American Indian Mascots. 1 October 2002. New York, NY: NYU Press.

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