Native Americans: People not props

Redskins edit

Cultural appropriation can be defined as a sociological concept that views the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture as a largely negative phenomenon. On the opposite end of the spectrum, cultural appreciation adopts other parts of a culture in a positive way to honor and celebrate them. These two definitions are often intermixed— especially in the NFL, by teams that hide behind big lawyers and copyright laws to defend their outdated and bigoted viewpoints.

In 2014, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademark registration on the grounds that the logo and team name were offensive to Native Americans. While this does not force the team to change their name, it does prevent them from blocking outside counterfeit merchandise from entering the country. This decision came after a massive push of support from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to ask the team to change their name, citing that 1-in-3 Native Americans found the name derogatory, and that as a result, the team should lose their patent.

In response, the owner of the team, Dan Snyder said that the organization understood the ruling but that they, “respectfully believe they (the patent office and the supporters of the decision) are mischaracterizing decades of honor and respect toward America’s Indian heritage that our name represents for generations of Redskin fans and Native Americans alike.”

And because they were so resolute in their stance against this decision, the team was able to fight it in court — and though they (The Redskins) ultimately failed in regaining their trademark due to its racist connotations, this did not prevent the Redskins’ coaches from continuing to make statements about how much they honored and respected Native Americans and refused to make any changes to the team.

Teams such as the Florida State Seminoles, Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins and dozens more are all part of the overwhelming cultural appropriation issue. For the Redskins, it takes the form of giant caricatures of the traditional Native American headdresses and clothes— such as their mascot, a bright red smiling Native American with a feather in its cap.

The negative affects of what they deem a “harmless depiction” can be best felt in Native American youth, as the images lower self-esteem and mood and facilitate the negative connotation of the culture. Suicide rates among Native American people below the age of 18 are double that of their white counterparts, and they have the highest suicide rate of any group in the United States. And still, the Redskins’ owners insist that the use of Native American imagery is harmless and respectful.

Many universities — with the exception of Florida State — have banned all offensive imagery or usage of Native American slurs in any sports teams — it only remains in the realm of professional football — and although steps have been taken in the right direction, the Washington Redskins need to acknowledge that the name is outdated. They need to change the name, mascot and stop the use of caricatures in their merchandise. Though no one would disagree that to honor and respect Native Americans is a noble and necessary cause, naming a team the “Redskins” is simply not the way to do it.