On Thursday, Outsports wrote a really glowing profile of Ryan Mizner, the recently out graduate assistant for the men’s basketball team at Central Michigan University. Home of the Chippewa. Knowing nothing about Central Michigan, the team name immediately triggers warning alarms for those who care about the rights of American Indians. The Chippewa? Really? Why, why, why do athletic teams still cling to American Indian team names and mascots, when it’s pretty well documented that Indian team names are pretty offensive? It’s a problem that affects teams on every level, from professional teams all the way down to the high school level. Nearly two thousand high schools across the country can now get a leg up on this issue, though, thanks to Adidas. The athletic wear company announced on Thursday that it’s offering free design resources and financial support to any school looking to transition away from names deemed offensive by American Indians.
With school budgets shrinking and athletic programs getting cut, many schools simply don’t have the resources to design new logos and buy new uniforms. Still, California recently banned any schools in the state from using the name Redskins, while schools in Oregon have two more years to comply with a 2012 ban on offensive mascots. Colorado is currently considering similar legislation.
“Ultimately, it’s the teams, athletes, coaches and fans who decide what changes they want to make,” Adidas reps said in a statement to the Associated Press. “And if they want to make a change and we can help, then we want to help.”
The issue of racist mascots in college sports is not a new one. The American Indian Movement addressed this issue over forty years ago, with leaders in 1972 asking schools and professional teams across the country to stop using offensive ethnic caricatures to represent sports teams. But tone deaf blowhards like Washington Redskins president Dan Snyder insist that Indian team names honor Native Americans, despite the fact that they have been told many, many times that NO ONE feels honored by being called a redskin.
It’s important to note that Adidas, the German company worth $18 billion, still produces racist apparel for professional and college-level teams in basketball, baseball, football and hockey. The Redskins are the worst example. The team, widely loathed in their home city, have already had their trademark revoked by the federal government, and they’re currently scrambling to embarrass themselves as much as possible. (This week they filed a hilarious legal brief citing companies with trademarked names including Take Yo Panties Off, Boys Are Stupid Throw Rocks At Them, and many more.) They have already taken a stance against Adidas. Team spokesman Maury Lane released a scathing response to the company that, for the record, sponsors Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III:
“The hypocrisy of changing names at the high school level of play and continuing to profit off of professional like-named teams is absurd. Adidas make hundreds of millions of dollars selling uniforms to teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Golden State Warriors, while profiting off sales of fan apparel for the Cleveland Indians, Florida State Seminoles, Atlanta Braves and many other like-named teams.”
Still, the National Congress of American Indians, the Oneida Nation, and an organization called Change The Mascot released a joint statement applauding Adidas’ commitment to this issue:
“We hope that a number of companies including FedEx, whose name adorns the Washington NFL team’s stadium, will step forward and follow Adidas’s lead. Adidas clearly understands that in 2015, businesses cannot sit on the sideline on this issue and that they must choose which side they are on. It is inspiring to see that Adidas has chosen to be on the side of inclusivity and mutual respect and has set an example for others to follow.”
Finally, let’s go back to Central Michigan for a minute. The NCAA has long taken a stance against mascots and logos which might be perpetuate racist stereotypes. In 2005 they put the school on a blacklist of eighteen colleges still using Native American imagery, alongside the Carthage Redmen, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, and the Southeastern Oklahoma State Savages. (Really.) The Chippewa name was later removed from the list, largely because leaders of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe petitioned the NCAA to allow the university to keep the name. (The Florida State Seminoles were exempted from the blacklist for similar reasons.)
CMU and the Chippewa have a long and seemingly agreeable working relationship. In 2003, for instance, the university and the Saginaw Chippewa together hosted a United Nations-funded international conference on indigenous issues in higher education. “It is not taken lightly in any way,” says Dave Heeke, athletic director at CMU. “I emphasize it’s NOT a mascot. It is incorrectly used by the media and others when they refer to it as that way. We don’t have a mascot at Central Michigan University.”
(featured image via Southeastern Oklahoma State University)