For decades, the conversation of eradicating anti-Indigenous mascots in the sports world has reaped only a few benefits. In 2019, Maine banned public schools and universities from using Native American mascots, which was a major accomplishment and gave many tribes hope. But, even though Maine took this step forward, more than 2,000 Native mascots still exist, many of them representing negative stereotypes.
But on July 13, one of the most controversial organizations in the NFL, the Washington Redskins, finally agreed to change their infamous name.
Before 1933, the Redskins were named the Boston Braves. The original owner of the NFL team, George Preston Marshall, chose the Redskins slur as the team’s new name in order to avoid confusion with the one of the city’s pro baseball teams. A few years later, the team relocated to Washington D.C. and called themselves the Washington Redskins.
But for many years, the organization insisted the Redskins name was to “honor” a team coach, William Dietz, who claimed he was Sioux. It turns out that he may not have been Native American at all.
The Redskins held on to this allegation for many years before Native American leaders asked the team to change their name way back in 1972.
Fast forward to 2020. Since the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, battles against injustices have sprouted up across the country. The national movement started as a way to bring light to the ill treatment Black Americans face daily, but it opened doors for BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) to speak on the many oppressive acts they’ve faced throughout history.
With the movement growing and many activists calling out the Redskins on their derogatory name, the team felt the pressure to finally change it.
This decision is considered a major win for Natives across the country. The name refers to the scalping of Native Americans, so many citizens see this as a breakthrough to teach Native history and potentially change the other discriminatory team names across the nation.
Many advocates are suggesting if professional and school sports teams would rather face pushback and keep their names, they should at least have students and players attend mandatory classes on Native history. Classes like these could potentially lead students and teams to have a greater understanding of the rampant cultural appropriation seen at sporting events and in society.
Activists across the country hope that with the Washington Redskins’ name change, others will follow suit and realize the dangers of stereotypical mascots and possible appropriation.
Alycia Cypress is a recent graduate of American Heritage School in Plantation. She is entering her first year at Syracuse University and will study broadcast journalism.