Owners of Controversial Mascots: Be a ‘Hero,’ Even if You’re Not One


(Media Credit: Alla Bliskovsky) The Washington D.C. football team has been an especially controversial mascot of late.

The Washington D.C. football team has been an especially controversial mascot of late. (Media Credit: Alla Bliskovsky)

To some, the concept of remaining ‘politically correct’ at all costs (monetary or otherwise) is an easy sacrifice to make–given that times and consensus opinions have become overwhelming over the last decade or so.


However, when speaking of political correctness in the boundaries of a team or college’s mascot, this concept is not so easily digested.


Imagine a random group of people, fans of sport or not, being asked a contrite, yet controversial question of relevance today:  “If mascot names such as ‘Redskins’ or ‘Redfaces’ had been suggested for a new expansion team in any given sport, would those name suggestions even survive through the first line of early consideration?


The easy answer? No. Absolutely not. As plain and simple as it may seem, there is just no room for that in today’s lawyered, corporate America, in which it’s clear every group has a louder voice. Non-Native Americans would protest the very image or thought of one’s team based on the fact that they’re even implying the slightest bit of misrepresentation or discrimination. Fair? Unfair? Many find that point to be irrelevant. It just is.


Another way to interpret this specific conflict would be the recent proposed bill in Arizona–a state with a storied image of despise for any culture not associated with that of White-European descent. However, this example is of different discrimination:  SB 1062, better known as the “Anti-Gay bill.”


It’s fairly easy to predict that not only would Arizona lose a tremendous amount of business from the gay community (and the right to host Super Bowl XLIX), but the state would also lose business because of its reputation and lack of moral awareness. In other words, a trickle-down effect would occur.

Was Arizona Governor Jan Brewer a heroine by vetoing the bill? No, but she sure as hell made more friends than enemies with that decision. It’s not rocket science.


So, why care at all about the small percentage of people who wanted that anti-gay bill passed? The overwhelming majority thinks it’s common sense. A parallel argument could be made for the fans getting upset enough when mascots change to stop being a fan. Really? Unlikely that it’s a large number.

The main conflict within determining whether or not to do away with all racially implicated names, such as the Washington football team’s, seems to be an argument of “heritage, not hate” among the strongest advocates of American sporting tradition.


Though the aforementioned question above seems desperate of an easy solution by redaction, the factors of these glory words such as “history,” “rich,” and “traditional” become about as redundant as a U.S. president’s second campaigning term.


Owners and administrators, who are advocates to some of the most controversial team or universities’ mascots in the nation, employ various legal and P.R. strategies to tip-toe the racial controversy: For a Mr. Daniel Snyder, owner of the aforementioned D.C. football organization, some efforts can truly backfire.


As Charles Fruehling Springwood’s “I’m Indian, Too!” elaborated on, the desperate attempt to trick the consumer by creating a false sympathy or understanding is a common practice among the corporate structures which are under fire from the Native American communities across the U.S.

“I have gradually become aware of the practice of “instant Indianness” as a way of fabricating discursive capital in these contests…Often, I have observed, when Native Americans speak out against mascots, they are confronted by mascot defenders who conspicuously claim Indian ancestry” (Springwood, 57).”

The aforementioned Daniel Snyder is the most recognizable example of whom Springwood describes. Be advised, the example of Snyder is not a type of political witch hunt, nor is it a cherry-picking attempt at finding an ideal poster-boy for evil advocates or racist mascots.


Mr. Snyder just happens to have, for lack of a better term, stepped in it (more than once), when trying to defend his organization’s “heritage” and  “tradition.”


The most notable foul-up of overreaching, involving a falsely identified “Native American” figure, was the recently exposed case of Steven Dallas Dodson, of Prince George’s County, Md.


As Deadspin’s Dave McKenna first described the identity controversy, “Chief Dodson” as the Redskins organization grew to refer to him, was not a chief at all. What’s more, Dodson’s Native American heritage was further questioned and discussed.


In short, rather than an “American Inuit chief originally from the Aleutian Tribes of Alaska” who “represents more than 700 remaining tribe members,” Dodson is an employee at Charley’s Crane Service, a towing company based in Landover, Md.

That “Chief” moniker, so hastily given to Dodson by Snyder and his organization, was a perfect catalyst and advocate for the defense of the name “Redskin.”

Thus, Springwood’s case is perfectly displayed and endorsed by Snyder’s eager manner of publicizing a false chief who by coincidence ‘conspicuously claimed Indian ancestry’ himself. Had Snyder not positioned his organization into such a corner by so quickly deciding to defend the mascot, he could’ve been looked at as more of a hero in the future than someone who was simply forced by the public persuasion to give in.


Moreover, to actually acknowledge that disrespect is deal toward Native American communities would be not only the noble move, but one of progressive integrity. How many fans do organizations such as the University of Illinois or the Cleveland Indians expect to lose by changing their mascots? Are we really that fear-based as a culture at the top?


Did all of those Baltimore Colts fans not stand at the gates of Memorial Stadium to welcome the Ravens to town? All of their “rich history,” “records,” and “tradition” is literally a part of the Indianapolis Colts organization now. Does Baltimore’s love for football and its team seem to be squandering? Even modest, unbalanced rankings would suggest the fan-base thrives, such as that of SB nation’s site.


What about those infuriated, dangerously loyal Fighting Illini fans that have packed the State Farm Center for years? Is there attendance struggling because they “caved to the pressure?” No. In fact, the university has been a steady top 15 in attendance for over a decade, according to fightingillini.com. Did Bullets fans boycott and run the Wizards out of town? Nope. Attendance stayed consistent, and is mainly correlated to the product on the court.


Bottom line? That magical Tradition or Heritage concept can only take one’s argument so far until it becomes less valid. Fans are fans, which is short for fanatic. Whether it be collegiate or professional sports, fans stick to their teams’ colors. Regardless of what those colors are or whom they call themselves.

Again, what do the numbers suggest? Fans don’t really care if you remove racially insulting subjects from their team’s “heritage,” nor do they care if you change the mascot entirely. What’s more, the obvious financial gain in revenue for people such as Daniel Snyder almost goes without saying, as the fan-base buys more merchandise.


Hidden by fear in the “loyalty circles” is the shockingly obvious win-win scenario:  Recognize the racial insults or implication of such, make that recognition publicly known, and act on such recognition by making major changes. Whether it be the Indian chief in Landover, Md. or the dancing ‘warrior’ in Illinois, stop walking the thin line. Take the blinders off. You’ll be looked at as a hero and a pioneer, even if you’re just enforcing common sense.