Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sports Teams Should Quit Ripping Off Native Americans

Recently the Washington Redskins have been in the news again, due to problems with their unfortunate nickname. I think this may be resolvable with some simple common sense business etiquette.  

When rich white people (i.e., Dan Snyder) insist that they are not being racist, but substantial numbers of Native Americans disagree, that sort of defines a dispute along racial lines, doesn't it?  You can't say that Native Americans are being honored by the name.  At least they don't seem to feel very honored. 

I went to Miami University, which used to be called the Miami Redskins (Miami being the name of a Native American Tribe, by the way), and we changed our name to the Redhawks and nothing really terrible happened.  Similarly, the Stanford Indians decided to change their name and logo and they seem to be doing okay.

I think the litmus test for sports names and logos is that these names and logos should be licensed from a bona fide Native American tribe, along the lines that Florida State does with the Seminole nation.  If you can get a Native American tribe to stand up and agree to be honored with the title and logo with a paying license to the tribe from the team, then you would have a good case that you are not being racist.  However, when you are keeping all the money to yourself, thus stealing the rights to this intellectual property associated with a specific group of people, and turning a deaf ear to the complaints from the Native Americans, then you kind of suck.  Dan Snyder, it sucks that you claim to be honoring a group of people, using a team name and logo from them that generates millions of dollars, and as far as I know you are not sharing a penny of it with a bona fide Native American group.

Incidentally, the Washington Redskins are actually named after the Boston Tea Party participants who were disguised as Native Americans.  The team was originally the Boston Redskins before moving to Washington.  I don't think that qualifies as honoring Native Americans.  The maroon uniforms incidentally come from the old Pottsville Maroons, who moved to Boston and played there one year before becoming defunct.  But the Boston Redskins decided to stay with maroon uniforms and pay homage to the Boston Tea Party.  They were not honoring the Native Americans.  

 If I'm not mistaken, Florida State licensed its logo from the Seminole Nation.  That's the right way to do it.  This is a real logo, whereas as far as I know the Redskins logo is a fake that does not pay royalties to any legit Native American organization. 

    By the same token, the Cleveland Indians need to get a new logo.  They were named after one Alex Sockalexis, a member of the Penobscot Nation.  So far so good.  But they claim that their "Chief Wahoo" honors the Penobscots. Well, if you can get the Penobscot Nation to agree that this is so, then logically the team should be paying a logo for the use of the logo.  

Who exactly is being honored by logos like this?

    But this is just not going to happen because in fact the logo is a racist caricature and no one feels honored by it.   I think the Cleveland Indians should negotiate with the Penobscot Nation to generate a better mascot, and both the team and Penobscot Nation should share in the royalties.    
Clean this artwork up a bit, and we might have something here. Give the Penobscots a similar royalty deal that the Seminole Nation gets from Florida State.  This would definitely work, in my opinion.  

     By the same token, the Washington Redskins need to come to terms with Native American organizations.  To be sure, not all Native Americans regard "Redskins" or the team logs as offensive. In fact some Native American high schools use that phrase as a nickname for their sports teams.   

     But I wonder if the Redskins logo represents some real Native American tribe.  If so, they should pay a royalty for it.  If not, then it is a cheap imitation, whose main purpose was probably to avoid paying a royalty and it should be scrapped.  It may or may not be illegal, but it is unethical and needs to be stopped.  

     The NFL should get this.  It's like a company selling maroon and gold-colored football jerseys, and they change a few minor details and say that it is not infringing the Washington Redskins team logo.  Well, the NFL would take that company to court, wouldn't it?

  Pro teams should get their logos and nicknames from a bona fide Native American tribe, and legitimized by a royalty bearing license with that tribe.  THAT would be honoring a tribe.  It does not honor the tribe by ripping them off.  

    Does money solve everything?  No.  But in my opinion 99% of the mascot/nickname/logo controversy would go away if simple business etiquette were observed.  

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