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Letter to the Editor: Team Names Offensive to Native Americans

Dear Editor,

On 29 September 2021, an opinion piece was published in The Spectator that was entitled “Are You Offended by These Team Names or Just Bored.” The article manifested the same patronizing spirit that the title promised. The supposition was that the controversy regarding the use of Native American imagery and titles was much ado about nothing. This is not the opinion held by the majority of the very people objectified by these racist and demeaning practices. We write as the Coordinator and a Professor of Native American and Indigenous Studies to provide a voice for what we see as our constituents in this matter.

The column published on September 29 did not embrace the informative goal of traditional journalism. Instead, the author demonstrates an astounding level of ignorance on the topic and attempts to impose his misinformed bias on readers. At the core of the matter, the author does not recognize that there are two different components in this debate. The first is the misrepresentation of Native Americans through derogatory naming and mischaracterization using blatantly erroneous and racist imagery. The second is the appropriation of Native American names and cultures by non-Natives. Both do damage to Native Americans individually and as groups.

We, as educated and responsible citizens of our shared world, should be concerned about injustices that include the degrading imagery of any segment of our society.

Instead, this ill-conceived article states, “There must be something hidden in the human condition that causes so many people to long for victimhood. After all, we’re talking about football here, and people try their hardest to make it about racial hatred and disrespect.” In this deceptively dismissive statement, the author blames the victim. The implicit challenge is, “How dare you be offended by something that I don’t think is offensive?” Throughout the article, the writer runs the gamut of racist imagery, equating them all as being equally offensive to the offended.

The author goes on to say, “The teams who (name themselves after Native Americans) are simply doing it out of respect for Native American people and culture because they were and are tough people that embody the spirit football coaches want to see in their players.” Since most imagery and naming are belittling and based on insulting stereotypes, how is this showing respect? How is “Redmen,” to use one of the authors’ examples, not racist? How did Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington football team, manifest respect when Native America initially asked for the Washington franchise to change its name? Snyder had no respect for Native Americans then nor does he now. The team changed the name because, after many years of profiting from it, the name and image became an economic liability, just as was the case with the Cleveland baseball team. Let’s not pretend that the Washington football franchise is enlightened. They were the last team in the NFL to integrate (see Bobby Mitchell). The move to integrate was picketed by the Klan and the American Nazis carrying signs that read “Keep the Redskins white!”

What is missing from the discussion is that the prior name of the Washington team was and is a derogatory slur in common usage, just as is the “N-word.” Is Black America wrong for being offended by the public use of that word?

Another point to consider is that there are fiduciary and financial considerations at play in the usage of some Native American names and cultural images. The appropriation of names by non-Natives is often done to make money for non-Natives individually and as organizations. After so much has been stolen from Native people, this amounts to simultaneous financial and cultural theft. This theft is made more egregious when non-Native individuals, institutions and organizations use political or economic control to ensure Native American acquiescence.

To the author, yes, we are offended. We are not bored. Your characterization of those who disagree with you do so because they have nothing better to do, or perhaps long for victimhood, is patronizing and degrading. The thesis of your argument – that being offended by derogatory language and imagery is not legitimate – is a self-serving exercise of hubris. You establish yourself as being arbiter of whether another person can be offended. Is that a role you are qualified to play? Argue against my argument. If you have a valid argument, there is no need to pursue ad hominem.

Valdosta State University is an institution of higher learning, and therefore, we have an obligation to neither perpetuate negative, hurtful, and erroneous stereotypes nor promote illegitimate cultural appropriation. The VSU community, including administrators, faculty, staff and students, have a responsibility to uphold this obligation. Any education institution that participates in this type of negative naming and imagery or cultural appropriation is undermining its educational mission.

If you have any questions regarding the legitimacy of the indigenous perspective, allow me to invite you to discuss these matters with the faculty of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Program: Dr. Haggard (333-5947), Dr. Lovern (333-7376), Dr. Parra (333-7372), Dr Yankovskyy (333-5492), or Dr. Knowles (333-5494). We remain at your service.

Dixie R. Haggard, Ph.D., Professor

F.E. Knowles, Jr., Ph.D., J.D., Coordinator

Native American and Indigenous Studies

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