Super Bowl XLVIII: Denver Columbine Survivors vs. Green Bay Drunk (How’s That for “Honor”?)

buffalo-nickelIn 2000, a private institution of higher education nestled in a quiet Chicago suburb decided that the time was nigh to change its collegiate mascot.  Odds are not even the most bratwurst-scarfing, jersey-junkie, beer-chugging sports fan in the nation had ever heard of—let alone followed—the athletic endeavors of the NCAA Division III Wheaton College Crusaders.  All the same, any time my alma mater toured one of its sports teams across Europe, its team mascot drew its fair share of attention—and aghast looks—from Iceland to Istanbul.

Then-Wheaton College President Duane Litfin went on record with the following statement:  “I came to realize that those [Crusades] were not very happy episodes in Christianity.  They are not something we want to glorify.”

“Not very happy episodes?”  No shit.  If you don’t recall the Fourth Crusade, permit me to remind you that, in the early 13th century, Christians intent on “liberating” the Holy Land made a pit stop in Constantinople and proceeded to sack the city, raid the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia, and rape and murder fellow Christians in such a bloodthirsty manner that more than one historian has gone on record to describe these events as perhaps the worst crime spree in recorded history.

About the only team mascot other than the Crusaders that could possibly be more insensitive to European minds would be the Roaring Tertiary Reich.

Wheaton College ultimately settled on the puzzling nickname replacement of “Thunder”—perhaps punishing itself in flagellating fashion with the selection of an object nearly impossible to depict.

The important word to capture in all of this is President Litfin’s interesting use of the term “glorify.”  Indeed, from Buckeyes to Banana Slugs, from Patriots to Packers, what a team calls itself, the iconography it uses to depict itself, becomes a kind of self-crowning glorification for followers and fans.  An honoring objectification.  But a major problem arises when the “object” of glory doesn’t want to be glorified—especially because “it” resents the reason it has been placed on a stadium pedestal.

Lions, Tigers and Bears aren’t really in a position to object to objectification, as it were.  They also don’t care; our games mean nothing to them.  But human beings, people groups, have every right to decline this “honor”—especially when they are the victim of a centuries-long tragedy and are well aware of the fact that the entire reason they are being “revered” is because they stood up for themselves while their family and friends were slaughtered, while their homeland was slowly stolen, and while they were lied to, cheated and robbed at every possible opportunity.

“Hey, Pale Skin, take your little football helmet tribute and shove it up your lily white ass.”  (My words, not theirs.)

We all know where I’m going with this, but stick around.  It’s going to get interesting.

The vast majority of culturally insensitive (“honoring”) athletic team mascots in our nation are, of course, references to Native American heritage:  Indians, Chief, Braves, Warriors, Redmen, Mohawks, Chippewas, Arrows, Chieftans, Savages, Tribe, Teepees, to name but a few.  I even came across one reference to the Brownies; yeah, loads of honor there.

As schools and sports leagues fanned out across the United States throughout the 19th century and early 20th century, there was an apparent great need to memorialize the fighting spirit and skin color of the people groups we settlers did our best to exterminate.  (By the way, I wonder if there’s a soccer team in Turkey called the Cappadocia Armenians.)

In the years following the Civil Rights Movement, calls began to emerge to undo decades of mascot stereotyping across the Fruited Plain.  Two of the earliest conscience-based mascot switcheroos were of the Stanford Indian to the Stanford Cardinal (1972), as well as the Syracuse Warrior to the Syracuse Orange (1978).  Curiously, in both cases, these academic institutions made transitions from Native Americana to the Crayola Spectrum.

The NCAA only needed a mere four decades thereafter (sheesh) to crack down on culturally insensitive mascots and representative iconography with a threat to ban such institutions from hosting postseason tournaments.  Between 2005 and 2006, nearly all “Indians” institutions turned over new mascot leaves.  Several institutions sought and received approval by various Native American nations to continue using their nicknames, the most notable being Florida State University with its Seminoles.  There is of course a parallel history with respect to high school mascots, which you can read more about here.

There remains a number of indigenous peoples-themed holdouts within the world of professional sports.  We yet have the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago Blackhawks and, most nefarious of all, the Washington Redskins.  People can debate all day the virtues or offensiveness of these nicknames and mascots, but it seems to me that the people we should be listening to foremost on the subject are the Native Americans themselves.

We have taken away everything else from them over the centuries:  for God’s sake, can’t we at least “honor” their voice?

One thing is for certain:  “Redskins” is not considered an honorable descriptor by any Native American.  Or as Clyde Bellcourt, co-founder and director of the American Indian Movement and an organizer with the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media, puts it, “The ‘R’ word is not different than the ‘N’ word.”

Also, for what it’s worth, the term doesn’t pass the Crayola Litmus Test.  “Redskin” is not a color one is likely to find in a box of crayons any time soon.

And why not?  BECAUSE IT IS OFFENSIVE.

I realize that we live in a world where tens of thousands of human beings are upended daily by planetary tragedies such as typhoons and tsunamis.  Ours is a terrestrial sphere where, even when Mother Nature lets down her guard, entire communities are gassed by dictators and car-bombed by fundamentalists.  To say nothing of the fact that, just weeks ago, Senator He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named of Texas came within mere moments of orchestrating economic Armageddon.

So why am I devoting 2,000 words hoping somehow to contribute to shaming the National Billionaire League into changing the name of a goddamned football team?

Because of a drink I had at the bar.

Let me explain.

The other day, my buddy and I were enjoying happy hour sarsaparillas at the local tavern.  Upon the television screen appeared an advertisement for the evening’s matchup between the Washington Redskins and the Minnesota Vikings.

We both got a bit of a roll-our-eyes chuckle out of the ad.  My friend is a Lumbee Native American.  I am of Norwegian-American descent.

He vs. Me.

Ha-ha-ha.

But I got to thinking.  I’m not at all insulted by the mascot of my hometown Minnesota Vikings.  The Vikings are represented by a braided, yellow-haired Nordic man.  His face is chiseled.  Odin’s mercy upon the man who dares challenge his horn’d bronze helmet.

There, opposite Mr. Norge on the television screen was a figure as American as a buffalo nickel.  For Pete’s sake, it is the image on the verso of the buffalo nickel!  Copper-Skinned Indigenous Man.  Stalwart Autochthon.

Manly images for a manly sport.  Who could possibly object?

But then I wondered how I would feel if the name of my hometown team were a bit more concentrated in its reference.  Forget the Icelandic founders of modern democracy; what about the Nordic raiders who terrorized the British Isles back in the day?  You know, the rapists and pillagers of Ye Ole Western Europe.

Ah, yes:  the Minnesota Rapists.

How would I feel wearing one of those jerseys throughout the course of a 16-game season?

Hey, the Rapists are coming to town!  Yes, the Purple-People-Eating Minnesota Rapists.  The Rapists recover the fumble.  The Rapists quarterback takes the ball from under center.  Touchdown, Rapists!  The Rapists Cheerleaders are looking mighty fine this afternoon.  The Rapists’ coach throws the challenge flag.  The Rapists call a timeout with 1:32 remaining in the fourth.  Rapists win!  The Rapists are playoff bound!  Your Minnesota Rapists are Super Bowl Champions!

Can’t it just be enough that a significant percentage of our national population finds the mascot of a professional sports team degrading to its ethnic identity?  There is nothing—Nothing—NOTHING positive about a professional sports team name based on a racial slur.

Blackskins.  Yellowskins.  Paleskins.  Redskins.  Just plain awful.

Thankfully, some very credible media organizations are finally taking Native Americans at their word.  Take a minute to read how the San Francisco Chronicle intends to report the upcoming November 25 match between the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington ________.

Yet even though the Chronicle and a number of other major media organizations, including the Kansas City Star and Slate.com, are joining the BLANK Bandwagon, it appears that the National Football League still isn’t ready to force Washington owner Daniel Snyder to right this obvious cultural wrong.

That said, I would like to suggest a one-up on the SF Chronicle.  Instead of not referring to the Washington team name, let us instead make our point a bit more obvious by descending into pure nomenclature madness.

Starting the final week of the current NFL schedule, let’s simply assign equally reprehensible mascot names to all the other professional football teams.

If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell refuses to enforce justice, the least we can do is show him how it feels to be a Native American in a Washington Redskins world.

(If you’re easily offended, stop reading here.)

Thus, here is my suggested revised NFL Nomenclature, beginning December 22, 2013:

 

Sunday, 1 p.m.  Cleveland Colored vs. New York N*****s

Sunday, 1 p.m.  Dallas Dummkopf Gun Totin’ Shitheads vs. Washington Redskins

Sunday, 1 p.m.  Denver Columbine Survivors vs. Houston Spics

Sunday, 1 p.m.  Indianapolis Klan vs. Kansas City Kikes

Sunday, 1 p.m.  Miami Wetbacks vs. Buffalo Borderline Personality Disorder

Sunday, 1 p.m.  Minnesota Rapists vs. Cincinnati Wet Split Beavers

Sunday, 1 p.m.  New Orleans Prison vs. Carolina Mortgage-Backed Security Dicks

Sunday, 1 p.m.  Tampa Bay Type II Diabetes vs. St. Louis Hepatitis Needles

Sunday, 1 p.m.  Tennessee Tea Bag Lickers vs. Jacksonville VD Strippers

Sunday, 4:05 p.m.  Arizona Deep Vein Thrombosis vs. Seattle Slats

Sunday, 4:05 p.m.  New York Whops vs. Detroit Bankrupt

Sunday, 4:05 p.m.  Oakland Urban Forget-Me-Nots vs. San Diego Border-Cross Bones

Sunday, 4:25 p.m.  Pittsburgh Pollacks vs. Green Bay Drunk

Sunday, 8:30 p.m.  New England Solipsism vs. Baltimore Fat

Monday Night, 8:40 p.m.  Atlanta Baptist Buffoons vs. San Francisco Queer

 

How many of us would dare don such jerseys as fans?  To say nothing of the players!

Well, then just imagine what it’s like to be a person of Native American heritage who sees a derogatory reference to his or her ancestors—to his or her own personal being—on ESPN and every other major sports media outlet, and in print and online media, week after week after week.

I know I’ve made my point, but I want to conclude with another anecdote that inspired this article.

If you’ve been following my articles lately, you know that my five-year-old daughter and I have spent quite a bit of time this year discussing sensitivity to Native American heritage.  Here is a link to an article I published a few weeks back about Columbus Day.  Also, please keep in mind that we have a strict rule in our home that we use the term “Native American” exclusively to refer to people of indigenous ancestry on our continent.

The other day, my daughter asked me who the Minnesota Vikings most recently played.

“Oh, let’s see,” I replied.  “It was the Thursday night game.  I caught a bit of it.  The Vikings beat, um, er, Washington.  The score was 34-27.”

My daughter:  “Yay!  The Washington what?”

“Huh?” I stalled.

My daughter again:  “What’s the Washington team name, Papa?”

I picked up the nearest object and begin fiddling with it.  “Oh…you know, Washington.”

My daughter, this time hands on hips:  “Seriously, dad.  What’s the Washington team name?  What are they called?”

Yeah, um, that.

By the way, if you want to contact the Washington Redskins organization, it will literally take you less than 30 seconds.  Just click this link; select Community Outreach.  Tell Mr. Snyder that indeed “you have a problem.”

Arik Bjorn

Arik Bjorn lives in Columbia, South Carolina. He was the Democratic Party / Green Party fusion candidate for U.S. Congress in the 2nd Congressional District of South Carolina. Visit the archive for Arik’s campaign website, and check out his latest book, So I Ran for Congress. You can also follow his political activities on Twitter @Bjorn2RunSC and on Facebook. And be sure to check out more from Arik in his archives!

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  • strayaway

    I don’t know what the team name was before but U of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is now the Blue Golds. It would be hard to think of an more insipid name. It must have been chosen by a committee as the one name that would offend no one and allow the committee meeting to be adjourned. Much more original was the Banana Slug name, mentioned, of the UC-Santa Cruz. The administration let students come up with their own name. The administration didn’t like it and gave students a second chance but the Banana Slugs held the line with threads of slime.

    I agree that if there is objection by the people a team is named after, for whatever reason, consideration should be given to a name change, but please, ‘Blue Golds’ has already been taken.

  • Pipercat

    “Tertiary Reich”… Holy shit! Too funny Arik!!!!!

    • Charles Vincent

      I am partial to roly-poly adipose…

      • Pipercat

        Don’t you dare start up with the, “who’s the best” argument. (hidden pun intended)!

      • Charles Vincent

        Gauntlet thrown Sir mwahahahahahaha….

  • anona

    My old high school’s mascot is still the Indian (this is in eastern Pennsylvania). I agree that they should change it, but I am probably in the minority.

  • Brittany M

    I’m a Norwegian Minnesotan-native, and I actually find the depiction of the Vikings to be out-dated as well. Historians have proven the majority of the Vikings were not rapists or pillagers, nor did they wear horned helmets. I definitely agree with the rest of the article though. Even my high school mascot was a little too much..”the Fighting Saints”…Time for a change.

  • Tim Blank

    I’m about as Liberal as they come…..but I hate that every single anti-Redskins article that has been written or talked about this year has absolutely tossed out the context that this name has been used with since 1933. I hate to sound like I’m one of those that complain about media….but too few articles and discussions I’ve seen with conversations on the Washington REDSKINS (use the goddamn name until it gets changed and yeah this is coming from a liberal) get both sides of discussion on it. I’ve been a fan of the REDSKINS my entire life and I don’t want to see this name get changed because of political correctness run amok in this country. Its offensive, its speaks to a bad time in American history I get it…..but what happens when you change it? The team’s identity is STRIPPED, 80 years of building a brand gets reset in a flash and for what? To make a minorty of a minorty feel accomplished? Talk to me about the Tomahawk Chop still used at FSU and at Atlanta Braves games, I’m tired of my team being called to change its name in 2013 because some thin-skinned folks out there don’t like it. Could the team do more to reach out to native americans? (We can still use THAT word can’t we?) Absolutely, I’ve been a big proponent of Mr. Snyder trying to reach out and use his business acumen to help Native American groups. But if you do get your wish and have the redskins name changed….start calling on Kansas City to change its name from the Chiefs…Chicago from the the Blackhawks (hey doesn’t THAT logo look so goddamn familiar?) ….Florida State from the Seminoles (I don’t care WHAT kind of relationship they have with that tribe) Cleveland and Atlanta from Indians and Braves. Just admit it…the only reason that these PC folks are going after the Redskins is that they are the biggest dog in this fight….soon as they lose, they’re not gonna focus on anyone else and it’ll be business as usual…MORE TOMAHAWK CHOPS FOR ALL ASSHOLES BUT REDSKINS?! OH NOOOOO WE CANT USE THAT!

    • The Author

      Mr. Blank,

      I appreciate your thoughts, especially your concession that “Its [sic] offensive, its [sic] speaks to a bad time in American history.”

      With respect to the Washington professional football team brand, which must inevitably face “uprootedness” in the wake of needing to address a matter of justice, it is what it is. It will be changed eventually; I’m just sad that Mr. Snyder is dragging it out instead of embracing a new, better day for Beltway football fans.

      I am curious, however, is there some sort of formula in your mind when offensiveness should be allowed to remain rooted? For example, if the team was founded in 1943/1953/1963/etc., would we all then naturally agree that the name has to go? Or is there some universal ethical rule that naturally grandfathers 80-year-old ethnic slurs?

      Many thanks,

      • Tim Blank

        Let me first apologize for my tone in the original message…as a Redskins fan it has been a tough season not only just watching our team fall WOEFULLY short of expectations (todays game being yet another hair pulling loss) but also hearing the ever-growing chorus of people (sportswriters, politicians and other folks, some even in DC) wanting to rip away 80 years of history for nothing else, at least in my opinion, to make Native Americans feel better, has also ate at me the entire season.

        As for your other question. I’ve been a believer for years that because this nickname has been used in a positive light for so long that it has transcended past its origination from back during post-Civil War times. I feel as though now when the term is used, its not being used in a derogatory sense. I don’t think its grandfathering so much as its been an evolution of how the term has been used. However, there are people out there that tend to ignore that this name has been in use for over 80 years and point to its use over a century and a half ago and point to that as if thats all there is to it. Now we could draw comparisons to the Miami University (of Ohio) Redskins changing THEIR name, but while there was pressure by tribes to change and the Board of that school voted to change it. Which I don’t have issue with.

        The other part of it that has frustrated me in this issue, is that while yes, it has been one of those that has been bubbling all throughout the 90s, it has exploded this year….why now? Its because of the added exposure of having a sensation at QB like Griffin and reaching the playoffs last season, in addition sites like this, social media and other ways of getting messages like this out. And again like I said in the prior message, the fact that the voices that support the name staying the same have been mostly silent.

        Comparing this to when the Basketball team of Washington changed its name from Bullets to Wizards in the late 90s, Abe Pollin made a conscious decision to change the name because DC was a hub of gun violence and he himself decided to change the name. I never had a problem with that (it also helped that the Bullets themselves don’t have a history rich with success).

        Changing the Redskins nickname to me feels like it wouldn’t accomplish anything because as I brought up in the original post, there are still things that are done today regarding native americans at sporting events that could be argued are MUCH more racist than the ‘Redskins’ name. I know you may disagree with me, but the reason I defend this so much may be because I fear change of this name and what could follow. I’m a believer of not whitewashing our history no matter how bad it was, and thats what I think this whole movement is about.

        Thank you for your time.

      • The Author

        A very thoughtful post, and thank you.

        Your team’s history is secure; I certainly have fond memories of the Hogs and John Riggins, and remember watching the Theismann game live. I also lived in DC for five years and followed the team daily, though I do not consider myself a fan.

        However, it is simply a matter of starting a new chapter of that team’s history. I like chapters that end cleanly. This is anything but that; Mr. Snyder clearly does not understand how posterity works.

        At the end of the day, I know that in the workplace, if I were to call my Native American colleague a “Redskin,” I would justly be shown the door. It is now palpably a slur, and it’s time for us to right this wrong–even if it were not considered a wrong en masse in 1933. (And, dang, even a little justice goes a long ways in this world.)

        I’m very grateful that you posted a follow-up remark imbued with passion and thought.

        Good luck to your team, by the way! As I am myself a Vikings fan, I certainly understand the woebegone nature of your fandom this year.

        Yet as I grow older, I come to rely less and less on sports as a occupation of my free time. At the end of the day, it’s just men bumping into each other on a field. The world all around us is desperate for our attention to be turned to much greater matters.

        Peace!

  • John Gordon

    Really, really good article!
    A critique/opinion/etc…It looked, to me, a bit odd to edit the “N-word” while allowing the other ethnic slurs to fly. Particularly while you are making a point of showing how harsh the words are. Does that make sense?