Political Matters: Sports and degradation
Saturday, October 11 2014
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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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 distinguished.”

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 organizations.

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 dance.

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.

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