Problematic Sports Logos in Modern Society

by Isha Lele and Leonela Serrano

After the creation of the NCAI, or the National Congress of American Indians, it is often perceived that racism doesn’t exist in American culture due to the increased law and cultural protection of Native Americans. However, from pop culture to language slurs, racism still exists daily, causing the need for activist demonstrations. With sports being one of the largest economic and social enterprises in the country, logos representing racial prejudice are often overlooked. Fans often disregard the stereotypical implications that these logos represent because of the importance these teams have in a city’s revenue and overall culture. Of these controversies, one of the largest is in Cleveland: the Cleveland Indians.

One of the most well-known yet discriminatory logos is Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians. Chief Wahoo is a logo showing a red-skinned Native American with a bright smile and a singular red feather. He has been the logo of the Cleveland Indians from 1928. The team has slowly begun to remove their obvious, Native American targeted logos, but in a slow fashion that tries not to anger fans. The team is now switching between the iconic Chief Wahoo and a large blue C, that stands for Cleveland. However, the management of the Indians still refuses to admit that these new logos are in spite of the protests to change them. The team has constantly denied that they’re deemphasizing the logo, but the increasing number of Native American protests in events such as season openers led to a different conclusion. The decision the Indians had to make was obvious because of the position they got caught in. They don’t want to anger their fan base by taking away Wahoo (which many members are emotionally attached to), but they also can’t deny the reality that racial caricatures such as Wahoo are increasingly hard to defend in a contemporary, diverse society.

Chief Wahoo.png

An even more controversial sporting team logo is that of the Washington Redskins. The word redskin itself is defined as “a contemptuous term used to refer to a North American Indian” (dictionary.com). The NFL team has had that name since 1937, in parallel to the installment of the Jim Crow laws. The NFL has also used the team’s “Indian” status as a way to hype up certain games and rivalries. This has occurred many times including when the team faced the Dallas Cowboys that soon became advertised as the annual “Indians vs Cowboys” game, romanticizing the aggressions committed against Native Americans. Controversy also exists surrounding whether the name would be changed or phased out, such as what occurred with Chief Wahoo. When polled, 79% of fans claimed that the Redskins was not an offensive name. However, this was an obviously biased population surveyed, as many were fans of the team. In May of 2013, the Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, claimed he would never change the name to something more appropriate, but since then has only received pressure to do so. In October of last year, President Obama even stated that if it was his own team, he would change the name. Furthermore, 50 United States senators collaborated in writing a letter urging the NFL commissioner to take action against Snyder and force the team to change it’s name. In June 2014, the Redskins’ trademark was canceled to show support for the Native Americans and the beliefs of the United States government. Despite obvious location importance (the representation of the capital of our nation), racism continues to flourish and instill old ideology in today’s youth. Many young Native American students feel that the use of these names are appropriating their culture and creating hostile environments for all parties involved.

Redskins.png

As citizens of our country, we need to focus on improving our consideration of all the minorities that live amongst us. A push is necessary to get rid of the hostile ideologies held against the beliefs of these people and a romanticization of the horrendous acts committed against them. The belief that these logos do not harm the minorities that they discriminate against are only continuities of an ignorant belief that racism does not exist in the United States. It is important to be aware of cultural appropriation and the social consequences that result in disregarding this level of respect.