Are These Mascots Offensive?


Clockwise: NFL’s Washington Redskins, NCAA Utah Runnin’ Utes, MLB Atlanta Braves, NCAA Florida State Seminoles

Usually when I talk about racism, I talk about the past policy to deny black Mormons the priesthood and temple ordinances.  However, there are other types of racism, and Native American racism is in the news.  Many people consider that the name NFL’s Washington Redskins is a racial slur.  President Obama weighed in on the issue and said “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team, even if they’ve had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”  Hall of Fame players (who played for Washington) Darrell Green and Art Monk think the name should be changed.  A friend of mine from the DC area has wanted to get the name changed for years, feeling it is racially insensitive at best.  Yet owner Daniel Snyder grew up as a fan of the team.  Back in May, he told USA Today  “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”


On top, Chief Osceola in a pre-game ceremony plants a flaming spear in the turf at Florida State University. Below is MLB’s Cleveland Indians. Are these appropriate representations of Native Americans?

President Obama has questioned whether Native Americans should be used by any team when he said “But I think — all these mascots and team names related to Native Americans, Native Americans feel pretty strongly about it. And I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real, legitimate concerns that people have about these things.”    Many teams have wrestled with using Indian names, including here in Utah.  The University of Utah, (the flagship institution here–note that BYU is a private school, not a state school) is known as the “Runnin’ Utes.” The NCAA put pressure on teams to change their mascots away from Native American names back in 2005, ruling that teams must get approval from the local tribe or they would not be able to host post-season games.  The Ute Tribe has given it’s blessing to the University of Utah, so the U is still in the good graces of the NCAA.  However, even though Florida State University has the same permission from the Seminole Tribe, the NCAA takes exception to it’s pre-game ritual where a student dressed as Chief Osceola rides onto the field on a spotted horse and plants a flaming spear in the turf, saying that this is “hostile or abusive.”  Other Seminole Tribes outside of Florida have not granted permission for FSU to use the Seminole nickname.


NCAA doesn’t like the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois mascot. The Syracuse (NY) University Orangemen have tamed down it’s image of a fierce Indian to literally an Orange with legs. Is this right, or should Syracuse change their name too?

I’m not sure why Washington gets so much press, while the Atlanta Braves or Cleveland Indians don’t.  Is Cowboy a slur against white people? Some schools have changed their names.  The Marquette (Wisconsin) Warriors are now the Golden Eagles.  The St. Johns (NY) Redmen are now the Red Storm.  Here in Utah, The Dixie College Rebels changed their name to the Red Storm (and even removed a Confederate statue on campus.)  Washington, DC isn’t immune from name changes.  The NBA team Bullets changed their name to the Wizards because of the outcry that the city was prone to gun violence and could use a better name than bullets.

Utah's Dixie College Rebels changed their name about the same time they went University status.  Now they are the Dixie State Red Storm.  But nobody seems to be asking the University of MIssissippi Rebels to change their mascot, despite this good ole' boy racist image.

Utah’s Dixie College Rebels changed their name about the same time they went University status. Now they are the Dixie State Red Storm. But nobody seems to be asking the University of MIssissippi Rebels to change their mascot, despite this good ole’ boy racist image.

What about whites?  Are you offended to be called a Yankee or a Cowboy?

Take the poll and tell us if you think these teams should change their nicknames because they are racially offensive. WhiteNicknames We can also talk about “bad” nicknames too. Would you want to be a Nebraska Cornhusker? How about a Jordan High School (Utah) Beetdigger, or a Davis High School (Utah) Dart? An Ohio State Buckeye is a tree officially called Aesculus glabra.  Does this inspire fear?  Are trees scary?  (Perhaps if they fall on you?)  The NBA’s New Orleans Hornets changed to the Pelicans because they wanted something more connected to the city.  Is that better?


15 comments on “Are These Mascots Offensive?

  1. These people, who want the names changed, have a broken compass.

    There’s no intent to hurt anyone, with these names. Rather, the opposite is true. These names are a badge of honor and courage…and are a compliment to the groups who have that ancestry.

  2. Oh…and by the way…”GO UTES!!!”

  3. Nice to see my Utes beat #5 Stanford yesterday!

    Adam, do you feel the same way about Ole Miss Rebels? How would you feel if a team took the name Washington Whiteskins or Blackskins or (heavan forbid) the N-word?

    I heard of a problem in England with the term “Yid Army”.

    Sports fans who call themselves the “Yid Army” have been warned they face potential criminal prosecution amid a crackdown by soccer chiefs that has triggered debate in Britain about whether the so-called “Y” word is acceptable.


    The North London-based Spurs boast a large Jewish following and although “Yid” has traditionally been used as an anti-Semitic slur, some fans consider the term a badge of honor and have adopted the “Yid Army” and chant “Yiddo” to show support for players.

    See http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/09/22/20564105-should-the-y-word-be-banned-crackdown-on-sports-fans-sparks-uk-debate

  4. Utah and Illinois, among others, have every right to use the tribe name as the school mascot. The entire state is named after the tribe to begin with. If the ute tribe objects, we should change the name of Utah to the state of Deseret.
    The Redskins and other pro teams are private enterprise. Let market forces take care of the issue. In this case it looks like the name will not be changed. So be it. Since I am much taller than the average person, maybe I should take exception to the Giants as a nickname. Of course the NY Giants really are quite large.

  5. By “change their mascot,” do you mean the image or the name?

  6. Either. The Syracuse Orangemen have changed their image from an Indian to a huge orange with legs, but should they also change their name? Conversely, the Utah Utes don’t use an Indian mascot at all. Their mascot is a Hawk named Swoop. They still use the “drum and feather” as a logo (with the blessing of the Ute Tribe). Should they change their name to match the mascot?

  7. I’m not sure you can draw any valid comparison between names like “Cowboys” or “Yankees” and Indian-related nicknames. History matters, and I can understand if some Indians aren’t too happy with their heritage and iconography being appropriated by a culture and people that historically haven’t always treated them too well. The closest scenario I could imagine for white people is if Britain had won the war for independence, ruled America as a colony with an iron-fist, and then centuries later started a soccer club in Boston or Philadelphia nicknamed the Yankees–maybe some people here would feel like that would cheapen or make a mockery of “American” culture. But even that’s not a good comparison, because the relationship between whites and Indians always had a strong component of racial supremacy until that sort of thing became taboo not that long ago. Basically, white people have never undergone the systematic subjugation Indians have.

    Having said all that, the current debates about Indian nicknames seem to basically consist of affluent white people who want to feel offended on Indians’ behalf and other affluent white people who think any cultural sensitivity is PC garbage, so it can get annoying to read both sides. It seems like Indians themselves should be leading the discussion and having a greater say, although I’m not really sure how you’d make that happen.

  8. Ole Miss Rebels is a name that brings to mind the ‘best’ qualities in a “rebel”. Tenaciousness, a fighting spirit, a desire for independence. In no way, I’m quite sure, is there any desire to lift up the evil practice of slavery.

  9. Go learn your cowboy history. There were a lot of non-white cowboys in the old west. So, how could “Cowboy” be racist? But, if you’re really worried, you could call them “Cowmen” since “boy” could be offensive. Or maybe “Cowpersons.”

  10. Adam, do you think the Confederate flag is a racist symbol? Do you support South Carolina flying it over their state capital?

    Mark, please tell me more about these black cowboys. I’ve heard all about Bonnie & Clyde, Billy the Kid, etc. Were they black?

  11. If racists are flying the Confederate flag. If not, then it is a symbol of those things I mentioned earlier.

    It’s really ridiculous.

    Maybe we ought change the name of the state of Washington, because Washington was a slave holder.

  12. Are you in Oregon, MH?

  13. No, I live in Utah. But I have seen Oregon play plenty of times (I hate their uniforms, BTW, but their helmets are pretty cool.) I can’t say I’m fond of pink, but I like the gesture for women’s breast cancer.

    Adam, you may be interested in my post that noted George Washington offered alcohol for votes. It’s obvious we see the issue of racism quite differently.

  14. Well…maybe we ought change everything that offends anyone.

    I’ll check out your post. (tomorrow – I did a double shift at work – headed to bed)

    Thanks for the link.

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