Political Matters: Sports and degradation


mordecai_specktor_some.jpgSports and degradation

I’m happy to report that school

board officials in Coachella Valley, California, decided to change

the name and mascot of the high school sports teams. Al-Jazeera

America reported in September that the “Coachella Valley High

School Arabs will now be known as the Mighty Arabs … They also

agreed to change CVHS’ Arab mascot to look less barbaric and more


The old evil-looking “Mighty Arabs”

logo image and mascot – apparently based on stories from “One

Thousand and One Nights,” also known as “Arabian Nights” –

have been recast, after complaints from Arab-American individuals and


Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director

for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said the old

mascot is “basically an angry ‘Arab’ head – hooknose, long

beard, headscarf and all.’”

Over many years, officials in charge

of prep and college sports across this country have responded to

complaints about ethnic and racial stereotyping and made changes to

respect diversity. They’ve done the decent and right thing; but

this has not been the case in pro sports. An egregious case of racial

insensitivity is the National Football League, which also has been

coming under attack for its tolerance of players who beat their wives

and children.

I recently read an op-ed article on

the Kansas City Star Web

site about pro sports exploiting American Indian culture. The author,

Hampton Stevens, of Kansas City, argues that the Kansas City NFL

franchise should change the team’s name – they’re the Chiefs

(with an arrowhead logo). He suggests that a change will “make

money for the team. But mostly the Chiefs should change its name

because it’s the right thing to do.”

Stevens writes: “The name ‘Chiefs’

is offensive. Granted, it isn’t as offensive as ‘Redskins’ or

Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indians’ grinning mascot. But, really,

is ‘least offensive stereotype’ where we want to set the bar?”

So, I’m writing about this topic

again ahead of protests in the works for Nov. 2, when the Minnesota

Vikings host the Washington football team at TCF Bank Stadium. I’ve

been writing about the appropriation of American Indian names and

religious symbols by pro sports teams for more than 20 years. The

issue gained a heightened profile in 1991, when the Minnesota Twins

played the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.

Preceding the first game at the

Metrodome, the national TV broadcast featured a short segment about

the controversy over the Atlanta franchise’s use of Indian names.

You’ll recall that when games were played in Atlanta-Fulton County

Stadium, the fans joined en masse in the “tomahawk chop,” which

was accompanied by a faux-Indian musical dirge and drumming.

On the basis of videos you can find on

YouTube, the Atlanta MLB franchise still encourages its fans to do

the tomahawk chop shtick. This is the team that had a mascot dubbed

Chief Noc-A-Homa. The tradition started in Milwaukee, and continued

when the franchise moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966. The most

famous mascot was Levi Walker, Jr. (Odawa), who portrayed the “chief”

from 1969-1985.

According to a story on the ESPN Web

site: “Before each home game, Chief Noc-A-Homa, dressed in Native

American costume, would do a dance on the pitcher’s mound and then

head out to left field where he would watch the game from a tepee set

on a platform in the bleachers. When a Braves player homered, he’d

set off smoke signals and come out of the tepee to do a celebration


Walker reportedly didn’t understand

why the American Indian Movement (AIM) objected to Chief Noc-A-Homa;

but the team shelved the mascot prior to the 1991 season.

And I’ve written in The Circle

about the Cleveland Indians: I went to the Metrodome many years ago

and interviewed the Indians, the professional baseball players and

some of the Twins about the mascot issue. And I participated in the

protest march to the dome, when Minnesota hosted Super Bowl XXVI, in

1992, which pitted the Buffalo Bills against Washington. Some of the

Washington football fans arrived in outlandish “Indian” garb; I

recall one woman in an expensive-looking white buckskin outfit topped

with a full headdress of red-dyed turkey feathers.

Again, the Washington NFL team is

packaged with a derogatory racial epithet. This team plays its home

games in the capital of the United States, which helps diminish the

nation’s status in the eyes of the world. One of these days, Daniel

Snyder, or whoever happens to own the Washington NFL franchise, will

change the demeaning team name. And the world will keep on spinning;

and we could move on to issues of greater import, as far as our

continued survival on Mother Earth.