A pair of professional sports teams took steps this week in changing mascots following pressure to eliminate racist or stereotypical names.
The Cleveland Indians have narrowed a pool of nearly 1,200 entries for a new name, the team said Thursday, after announcing in December it would drop the Indians name.
Meanwhile in Edmonton, a similar process ended with the announcement that the CFL franchise will now be named the Elks.
Edmonton dropped its name, Eskimos, last year after the Washington NFL team made a similar decision amid growing pressure and just five months after the CFL club announced it was keeping the name following a year-long research.
The Eskimos name has long been associated with sports teams in Edmonton, but, as the Associated Press reported this week, critics say the name is derogatory and a colonial-era term for Inuit.
Canada’s national Inuit organization had called for a change in the name back in 2015, the AP reported, among other calls for the change in the past.
While the process continues in Washington DC and Cleveland, other professional teams in Kansas City, Atlanta and Chicago have no plans to change or have moved away from Native American imagery.
Change is slowly coming to the professional and collegiate levels but at there are 1,900 high schools in the nation that use Native mascots. The website mascotdb.com, which tracks all mascot names, has “Indians” ranked seventh and “Warriors” sixth among most-used mascots. Among active mascots, “Indians” ranks 14th while “Warriors” is fifth.
One state, Maine, has banned the use of Native mascots in its public high schools and colleges while other states have restricted some use.
The National Congress of American Indians has a “Ending ‘Indian’ Mascots” Initiative and database that reports 70 schools around the country have changed mascots since the start of 2020.
None are from Missouri.
A story recently published in the Columbia Missourian highlighted the debate of changing high school mascots in this state. It contacted officials from 23 schools that use “Indians” as well as two that use “Chiefs,” and ones that use “Redmen,” “Blackhawks” and “Savages,” with a survey about the issue.
Some communities have started a discussion while many have not, the Missourian reported.
What’s the big deal?
A study published last summer reviewed research on Native mascots and how they directly and indirectly affected both Native Americans and non-Native people.
“First, (Native mascots) are psychologically detrimental to Native American students,” the study said. “Second, for non-Native persons, they are associated with negative stereotypes of Native Americans. Third, these mascots undermine intergroup relations by increasing negative stereotyping of Native Americans.”
Dr. Laurel Davis-Delano, a professor in sociology at Springfield College in Massachusetts, told the Missourian, “There’s hundreds of different Native cultures, but the mascots more or less embody a homogenous version of what Native people are like culturally (and) ignores cultural differences.
“(The mascots) are almost all male, they’re also almost all warriors or chiefs and they’re almost all from the past. … I think that decision makers need to pay attention to these research findings.”
If that’s not a good enough reason to at least consider a change, then perhaps look at it in another, less politicalized way — it’s boring.
There are lots of schools with “Indians” as mascots while other schools like to stand out.
Eagles, Tigers, Bulldogs, Panthers and Wildcats are the top-5 mascot names used in the nation, according to mascotdb.com while Lions, Cougars, Knights and Mustangs round out the top 10.
Meanwhile, Mules rank No. 270 with just 13, including five in Missouri.
Change, of course, is never easy or cheap.
Unlike the professional teams in Cleveland, Washington and Edmonton, local school districts don’t have the money to hire so-called brand experts and graphic designers. Then there’s the cost of switching out one mascot for another on everything from merchandise and uniforms to buildings and letterhead.
Many of the schools that have changed mascots started with students leading the way.
Long ago, before there were brand experts, sportswriters were known to start naming teams that eventually stuck. They would just change the name because it was too long for a headline or they didn’t like it.
I’ve stopped using Native mascots in my stories, when possible, for awhile now, not that anyone has noticed or probably cared. I’ve also stopped using the “Lady” prefix to mascots of female teams, when possible. It’s not an attempt to be “woke” or “politically correct,” it just seems like the right thing to do.
So, if any community wants to change its mascot of any kind, this sportswriter will gladly offer his services free of charge.