Meanings in appropriating names

By Abbey Serena and By Abbey Serena

In a telecommunications class, I recently had a discussion about whether it is or isn’t appropriate to name sports teams after indigenous people, or to even derive names from what we stereotypically associate with them. There was no conclusive answer found in my class, but I wanted to explore this topic further. Is there any situation in which this is appropriate? Is there a difference in the amount of respect or disrespect if a team is made up of every other race but the one with their name on the scoreboard, or if a team is made up entirely of people of that race?

While there are many of these teams out there, I will speak about three which have practically become household names: the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Washington Redskins.

I am not sure about where the Washington Redskins got their name, but after searching around, I discovered that the Indians and the Braves both took on these names after having baseball players from certain tribes join their teams.

This statement makes me wonder why, of all of the other players, did these teams choose names related to Indian tribes? Why not take a name that’s associated with a white player? Is it because, throughout the 1900’s, Native Americans were viewed as savage warriors, set on winning against any competitor?

The Redskins, on the other hand, bluntly put out a racist term as their name. Were you to put any other color in front of the word “skin”, there would be so many outbursts that the owner of the team would have no choice but to change the name. So why, except for a few protests, is the term “redskin” okay to use for Native Americans?

In my opinion, using these names is a lot like naming your dog after someone higher up on the food chain, so to speak. This could be an artist, a writer, an owner of a powerful company. And when you say “bad so-and-so, no chewing on the couch”, you’re technically putting down the person you named the dog after. It’s the same with naming a sports team after a race. “The Indians were so bad tonight! They got destroyed!” Same concept.

I don’t have much of a comment about a team of Native Americans that names themselves something to do with their race, because that’s on them. It’s their choice, and if they don’t feel offended by it, so be it. But when you have a team made up of a mixture of different races, and maybe you had one Native American on the team thirty years ago,

I don’t think it’s appropriate to call yourselves something related to Native Americans.

Don’t you think it’s just a little offensive to plaster a massive, red head with a feather sticking out of its scalp all over the media, and then to say, “The Indians just stumbled! And I thought they were supposed to be more graceful than that!” Because every Native American has to be a light-on-his-feet fighter, with feathers on his head and a fighting spirit inside of him, with no deviation whatsoever.

“Roll over, Vincent van Gogh! Good boy!”

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